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.

A whole bunch of tears

image

There is a purposeful lack of tissues in my office – a reminder of absence that I should not make people cry.

However, today I started a flood. A lady going through divorce is afraid to tell supportive agencies that she is homeless and needs help.
She wants to hide homelessness from her child’s father.

Said child is a teen and fully aware of her homelessness.  She is also aware of the impending “D” aka divorce. Mom is so enthralled with her drama that she cannot register the pain if her child.

My conversation went thus:

“You don’t have to be Team Mom or Team Dad. You need only be Captain of Team You.  If you need someone to talk to who isn’t carried away with their own opinions, come back to me. Your friends don’t understand what you are feeling or going through and your grown ups are having their own feelings , so come back to me and I will listen and help you find someone to find you for tutoring and a professional to listen to your heart.”

Homeless children are powerless to change their living situation and ultimately helpless.

She cried because no one had told her that she was allowed to have feelings or an opinion.

Her mother looked stricken.  Poor lady had been unaware of the impact her homelessness and divorce had on the young lady who is her child.

Our adventure with near drowning and Arcadia Ca.

Yesterday Crisi saved Darla’s life and then the perks of employment and affluence kicked in to make what could have been a nightmare into a random parenting adventure.

Background :I have two daughters.  Jax is all grown and Darla is 3. As the first of my friends to have a child, I raised Jax without the benefit of a peer group for us. I also dropped out of college and went on welfare (Cal Works) while working cruddy part-time jobs and completing my degree. When she was ill – and when I broke my leg we used Medi-Cal aka Medicaid to pay for the hospital etc.  With Darla all that changed.

I have a group of Girlfriends from the Masons / Job’s Daughters/  De Molay who all have little girls . Darla is the youngest member of the Super Secret Sister Society (I named them this week while planning the party for yesterday) as she is 3 years old and Bella is 7 and the oldest.

Samantha watching the girls in the spa.
Darla in in the red suit with yellow floaties.
adult pool supervision
Becky from Oragami Owl, and Coleman are watching the kids and engageing with them

They had a swim party yesterday. I planned and planned it and nothing went as nm planned but everyone survived so I have no complaints. It could have gone so differently.

hot tub kids
Count the adults in this picture where Samantha chats with Sophia. You can see Darla’s floaties in the water
  1. I have great friends who all feel like Darla is their daughter and they take good emotional care of us. We are not alone.
  2. This happened in Arcadia, Ca.

Arcadia police and fire departments are the best. I’ve worked and lived in a few places so I like to think I’ve sampled the wares of other cities and states and so have come by this opinion.

Nick Paramedic from the Arcadia Fire Department
Arcadia Paramedic
  1. Dad pays the $40 or so a year Fire Dept insurance so paramedic calls are free. And those guys and the SWAT officer were at the house within seconds of my hanging up the phone.

image

image

  1. Kaiser has a Web site so I could look up Darla’s health Insurance And Medical Records easily from my Verizon Samsung android phone.

If I were anywhere else and my daughter had swallowed and coughed out pool water I would not have called 911 and she could have “dry drowned”. But I called freely because I knew it would not cause financial hardship.

Kaiser insurance for myself and my daughters is a benefit through my job, and I affirm to you that I stay employed there because of the benefits.
Arcadia Methodist Hospital is a world leader in many area, but they also have a world class staff who were compassionate and patient and did everything they could so make the 3 hour visit to ER a positive experience for a toddler and her mom.

image

I kept thinking of people in poverty who could not have afforded to be in a neighborhood with this level of care designed into it , nor could they afford to tap into it as a visitor (as I had).

Toddler in hospital bed

I’m cranky and critical but can honestly tell you that the only bad part if yesterday was my kid’s confession that she snuck into the pool on purpose because she did not like me telling her to get out of the water so I could go in the house and clean without worrying about her. She told the nurse at the hospital that she will follow directions next time because she did not like being stuck under water.

I asked Darla to get out of the water while I went into the house. She left the hot tub and all the adults assumed she would walk to the table and sit down. 3/4th of the way there Darla calmly walked down the steps into the pool. At the bottom step she was in up to her eyebrows and could not yell or get her head or nose over the water. As she moved her arms she made herself spin in circles under the water. Her eyes were wide. Crisi saw her under the water and asked if she was okay. When Darla did not respond, Crisi went in and pulled her out. Darla coughed out water and went quiet until she was handed to me. Then she started to scream. Because she had inhaled water – I called 911 to have her checked and they transported her and me to the local hospital. The ride was very much like the night she was born and we rode in an ambulance together then too.

My friends cleaned Dad’s house and brought my car and keys to the ER. We received a video from the kids at the party asking how Darla was. The neighbors not only came out to see the emergency services, they cared enough to come speak to me while I held Darla and sat on the gurney – and I woke up to email and texts from them too.

image

All in all- it was survivable and I know enough to be thankful.

PS – Even though I was the only “single” adult there, please note the HAndsome people who crashed the party at the ast minute.

Don’t leave your neighbors alone in a hot car

Don’t leave your neighbors alone in a hot car:

It is a link to a video. I talk about a client I had many years ago who lived in a car and raised her child in the car. She could not go to work or ever feel safe leaving her teen home alone because HOME =CAR. No privacy or security. Also, until recently it was illegal to sleep in your car or be stopped by police with camping equipment in your car. Don’t leave your neighbors alone in a hot car, or at the very least, try to understand and work to make this lifestyle no longer necessary.

Skid Row (and Poverty) needs a Reality Show

I see staff from @authentictv Authentic Entertainment every day at the local 7 – 11 where I sing for my coffee. At the coffee bar I explained that they worked down the street from the greatest reality show just waiting to happen – the Welfare office. A bald hipster sent a smile to me about of his scarf and skinny jeans eclectic outfit while he indulgently educated me that covering the homeless and poor in a series could be disastrous due to the difficulty of covering tragedy without it being too hard to watch.

No, happy hipster, you are absolutely wrong. Sure, you could make a sob story with slow violins playing Nathaniel Ayers music as you pan down Crocker street in Los Angles and have graffiti announcing the latest marijuana flavors for sale illuminated by blue and red flashing lights. That is one way to go if you are into pathos and a single perspective of homelessness and poverty.

There is more to the Homeless Situation in Los Angeles than what slumbers on the sidewalks of city streets.

Homelessness is born out of poverty and social disconnection. Your story – the part that would make it relatable to the average American and bring poor people out of the shadows and into the light – lies with the social workers and “regular folk” who work with this population. I have been working in Homeless Services form a local, a non-profit, and now a government perspective for over 10 years. In all that time I have never found someone who engages with this population who isn’t secretly harboring a personal life measurable on a scale of slightly off kilter (1) to a totally hot mess (10). You all have been with me and this blog for 8 years now. Awesome as I am ( and I am awesome ) – that is 4 residences, 3 boyfriends, 2 jobs, death of 1 parent and the birth of my second child from a relationship that made a Domestic Violence Instruction manual look like my Day Planner.

There are 4 basic types of Poverty Professionals and most of them are females.

  1. Fresh from college with starry eyed optimism and living with Mom & Dad so the low pay wasn’t a factor.
  2. Soccer Mom’s who are married to a steady income and want to change the world.

  3. Survivors of poverty. These are graduates from the shelter programs who went on to work there, Former welfare mom’s (me!) who joined the system to improve it /former drug addicts leading support groups etc.

  4. Professionals:the support and office staff needed to run a company and could be interchanged with any administrative staff in any company. They get to say they are saving the world without ever meeting the population their company serves.

In my head and my diary and on this blog, I hold the stories of thousands of people who are experiencing an American Nightmare. They are not living Beverly Hills 90210 – they are living Skid Row 90021. Everything you would expect in that sad sack documentary is something I have experienced. What the average people don’t know are the other stories.

Here are 30 random lessons I learned :

  1. How to make a payment plan with a Crack Dealer
  • How to convince hookers not to perform “for credit”

  • 3 How to turn a spatula into a door stop

  • How to cook drugs on a spoon

  • What to do when you take a client into the Psych Hospital for evaluation and the nurse thinks YOU are the patient – despite the 50 year old woman twirling in her purple tutu next to you

  • When to punch and knock out a Veteran having a PTSD flashback

  • How to make a Suicide Contract to keep someone alive until the Department of Mental Health re-opens on Monday.

  • How to talk to naked people

  • What to do when you open a shelter door and find a dead body

  • How to clean up the remaining juices of that dead body and the sadness of losing your favorite platform flip flops in the process

  • When to lock your visiting 10 year old daughter in your office with a television and video game system, and have a knife wielding sociopath guard the outside of the door

  • How to be pen pals with said sociopath 10 years later

  • What to do when someone bakes you cookies with obvious roach body parts protruding

  • How to use paperclip and tax free Mexican cigarettes to build a tree sculpture ( that your coworkers and clients eventually smoke, one cigarette at a time, even though it is covered in glitter and shellac)

  • How to react when Soccer Moms walk you and your daughter back to your car and spy the Thousand Pack of condoms on your front seat

  • How to react when you complain “I need a man” and 10 minutes later a homeless client brings one of her homeless friends – who doesn’t speak any language you are fluent in – to “service” you.

  • How to politely tell someone to call back and complete their suicide threatening call in 10 minutes because you can’t think straight until you have some coffee in you.

  • How to bring homeless clients home with you

  • How to identify the difference between a family of cats and a pack of rats on the street at 10 pm

  • How to react when the social worker in the next cubical discloses that she is a weekend dominatrix

  • How to have a successful “telephone actress” career from the comfort of your day job

  • The best way to plan for your new born baby’s first outing, which will be to a homeless shelter to donate all the ugly baby clothes and supplies you don’t need.

  • Making all first dates be lunch dates and they have to pick you up at the homeless shelter where you work and be approved by your clients.

  • What to do when the LA Parking Enforcement is in love with ticketing your car so you come out of work to find an orange “boot” on your wheels

  • How to discourage homeless people from opening your car doors and climbing in as you drive down the street (hint, play dough and pennies burn on hot days.

  • How to sweet talk your Dad into buying you a car with automatic locks because homeless people climb in your car

  • How to make a fast $100 by letting a street hustler host a yard sale of everything in your trunk.

  • The best ways to shake people down for all the drug paraphernalia on their person when they walk into your office.

  • How not to laugh when your best friend comes on your client field trip to The Hollywood Bowl only to get scared by the mannequin on the corner ( there is someone behind you – oh my God, they could kill you!)

  • The fabulous way driver’s License Photos look when you get your make up done by an actual crack whore while in line at the DMV

  • I really think that extreme poverty – in a society that is rallying against the 1% and simultaneously posting angry FaceBook messages about Food Stamp users is a topic that absolutely should be covered. I think it would have to be done all in re-enactment format but I should be spoon fed to the general public.

    Why?

    Because we can not solve a problem that we insist on avoiding.
    PS ( Don’t judge. Jerry, the owner, is a reality show junkie and once a chubby chick won a British competition he decided all fat chicks can sing. Luckily – I really can so I sing in exchange for coffee. I am poor and I do what I gotta do.)

    The Lesson I Need to Learn About Loving My Neighbor

    http://churchm.ag/sermon-illustration-love-your-neighbor-as-yourself/
    If you believed everyone was just another You …

    Sometimes I actually listen. I snuck into the memorial for a good friend’s grandfather this weekend. She is very popular but I assumed that none of her regular friends would attend – there was no loud 1980’s music, no beer, no gossip to be had. Just sitting quietly and contemplating the measure of a life. I did not want her feel alone and friendless in the sea of grief she is swimming in. When my mother died, it mattered that my childhood best friend came just to give me a hug. (Thanks Jennyfur – Jennifer Balmot Sandberg).

    What I got out of sitting through the service was a message I had heard but never understood before.

    LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF

    I try hard to be a good person – and then I try even harder to pat myself on the back and reassure myself that my good deeds make me a decent human being.

    But, when I spend $50 getting a haircut, I don’t tell myself how nice I am for cutting my hair and pat myself on the back for driving the 40 miles round trip to get Denny from The Yellow Balloon in Arcadia to cut it. (see, right there, I was telling myself how nice I am for the free and shameless plug to his business. ).

    So, if I feel I need attention and notice and praise for feeding someone else, housing them, loaning them money –  am I really loving my neighbor the way I love myself?

    What I learned from the funeral is : “No”.

    I still see “you“ and you and myself as a completely different person  as I make valuations on kindness.

    I am kind to myself because I love myself. I am kind to other people because I am supposed to be kind (Because face it, I am only getting into Heaven if Jesus can be bribed and somehow forgot to listen in on my thoughts – since, like, I could have thoughts).

    Love your neighbor as yourself – the message is to be kind to other people as an extension of being kind to you and not think twice about it. Be kind as a way of living and not as a goal. Be kind to those who may never live long enough or be able to appreciate the kindness you do – because you don’t need recognition. You house the homeless because you do not want to be homeless. Feed the hungry because you feed yourself. Teach the illiterate because you like to read and find it useful. Make other people an extra arm on your body. Adopt them into you and live as if they did not matter as much as you do – but live as if they are you.

    I don’t know why I never thought about this before – or at least, thought about selflessly thinking of others and doing for them just as if they were myself. I am a terrible person, I know. but I am working on it. ♥

    Diva Alert: I am Intolerant so I Became a Social Worker

     

    No. I am not a “Do-Gooder” – I am an angry and intolerant snob with customer service issues. I can’t afford to be one of those “Ladies who Lunch” – but please, feel free to fix me up with a Sugar Daddy so I could be…. I’m just saying that I am open to the idea… It isn’t so much that I am trying to make the world a better place – I am trying to make the world I live in a place where I don’t want to scream and poke people.

    Growing up in Arcadia, CA we were shielded from poverty and other human afflictions. Before you get defensive, remember that the Santa Anita Racetrack was an Internment Camp until Manzanar

    My freeway sign
    My freeway sign

    was ready – and I didn’t know that until I went to college.  Everyone pretended that all adults could read, hold employment and were emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially healthy. As children, my friends and I knew this was not reality. We had friends who lived in trailers, shared back houses with other families, had incurable lung diseases, and family and friends with substance use issues.  Arcadia was (and is) a nice bubble to live in – but bubbles are transparent and everyone can see through them.

    I was confused and angry to be told of one reality while I lived something completely different. My biological mother was chronically homeless, mentally ill and a drug addict. I was adopted into a family where my uncles had (and have) ongoing substance abuse and mental health problems and my adoptive Mother had a life long illness. My uncles moved in and out of my grandparents homes because they could not stabilize themselves. And as far as I could tell, no one stood up and said “Hey, look over here and see if we can make a change!”

    Supposedly we can blame Bryan Whitlach Alexander for his infusion of Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror while I was in High School. “Look in the mirror and make the change….”

    I went to college and dropped out to become an unwed mother with 3/4ths of a college degree. My sorority sisters abandoned me when they realized I was going to live in poverty and raise my daughter on cash aid and food stamps while I worked minimum wage jobs and debated returning to college. Eventually I did complete my degree – which today I am told will never be worth what I paid to earn it… great.  While in college I did an Internship at Santa Anita Family Services and met a homeless man living in the parking lot. I was told to drive him to the edge of our “SPA” – Service Provider Area – and then he would not be our problem anymore.  Seriously?!?! More “out of sight is out of mind” thinking? Wow.

    While I was never good at finding resources for myself, I did suddenly start a search for ways to help this man. What I discovered will not shock the natives – THERE ARE NO SERVICES IN ARCADIA to assist the low income or homeless. None. Sure, the churches and synagogues and temples offer sack lunches, but there is no employment training, nowhere to collect cash aid checks and pick up food stamps (these are now issued on an EBT card), no public restrooms or showers or low cost laundry mats. Even the Adult Education Classes were held outside of the city. I would love to build a MEND Poverty (Meet Each Need with Dignity )  in the San Gabriel Valley.

    So, I became a Social Worker. I would love to bring and build services needed by so many – but I don’t know how to fund that. What I do know how to do is have an encyclopedic reference for every possible service currently provided in the area, the ability to network, to connect via social media, and how to make a human connection with the people in need for these services and plug them into the programs they need.

    As a social worker and child of teachers, I am intolerant of people who drop out of high school, and equally intolerant of schools that disenfranchise students who don’t fit their dream ideal of what a child’s goals should be. In Arcadia there are no more Vocational Training courses such as auto shop and woodworking. They even tried to kill the football program because it conflicted with test schedules. No joke.  Now that I know where the great Remedial Education and Adult Basic Education skills are offered, I am intolerant of folks who won’t try to achieve the most necessary of “Get a job” skills – the High school Diploma or GED.

    I am angered by parents who refuse to continue school and who settle for minimum wage jobs because parenthood prevented them from living their dreams. Don’t they understand that they are telling their kids that the kids are dream killers? I would rather they show the children that the kids inspired the parents to push harder than ever and achieve their goals. My oldest daughter was five years old when she attended my graduation from The University of La Verne. She is currently a Sophomore there.

    I am intolerant of people who believe that only illegal immigrants can do menial manual labor like push material through  sewing machine, pick crops, wash dishes, swab restrooms. The money is just as green from field work as it is from sitting in an office.  My father picked and sliced fruit as a youth, and I literally washed a grown man’s butt to pay for college. Work is work and money is money. Some work is harder on your body and soul – but they ability to pay bills is not reduced by the nature of the source of income.

    People are worth more than the sum of their bank accounts and personal property. This is my largest pet peeve (other than when folks don’t take down the blue handicap placard before driving… I mean, read the bottom of the card and take it down already! ). Jesus , Ghandi, Rosa Parks, Ben Franklin – none of these people had credit cards and not all of them had permanent or stable housing throughout their adulthood. Would you refuse to have dinner with them now, if you could? These folks are noteworthy because of what went on in their minds, the words that came from their mouths and the actions they took. It never had anything to do with income. How did money become so important in dividing us anyway?

    I am intolerant of people who give up and are as helpless as they can be in the hopes that someone will save them. I have had enough with the “Damsel in Distress” act. Get up. Pick a direction and get moving. You won’t get to come back as someone smarter or richer – this is your one life. Educate yourself, enrich yourself with your own efforts and reach out and help those around you.

    I am not trying to make the world a better, kinder place. I am trying to shape it into a place I can set my four girls loose into and know they will thrive – where even if hard times happen (because they will) there will be assistance and motivation for them. I want to build the world I was told Arcadia has always been.

    MEND’S ANNUAL “HEAD TO TOES” EVENT PROVIDES MORE THAN 200 THIRD GRADE STUDENTS WITH BACK-TO-SCHOOL ESSENTIALS

    ♥♥♥♥ @MENDPoverty ! This is how they meet the needs of local school kids!

    Students from Pacoima’s Vaughn Next Century Learning Center Receive Donated Dental and Vision Screenings, New Backpacks with School Supplies and New Shoes

     (Pacoima, CA) – MEND—Meet Each Need with Dignity, the San Fernando Valley’s largest poverty relief organization, will host its 12thannual “Head to Toes” Event, which provides approximately 220 third-grade students with full back-to-school care.

    WHEN: Wednesday, August 29, 2011

    There will be two shifts: 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.; and 11:45 to 2 p.m. Children will line up for busses at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., which is when they will receive their new backpacks.

    WHO: Approximately 220 third-grade students from Pacoima.

    WHAT: Students will be divided into 5 to 6 stations to participate in the following: dental screenings and fluoride treatment, vision screenings, an exercise activity, arts & crafts, and new shoe selection. Finally, at the end of their shift, each child will receive a new backpack, donated by the Walt Disney Company, and new basic school supplies donated by the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation.

    ***Photo Opportunity: 200 third graders receiving vision and dental care (a first-time experience for some) and participating in activities. Photo release waivers signed by parent(s) will be available.

     WHERE: The MEND Center – 10641 North San Fernando Road, Pacoima, CA 91331

    Wicked Witch of the Welfare Office

     ImageUsually I feel pretty good about my job. Today I am disenchanted. I had an imaginary conversation with myself.

    I am the evil witch lurking…ahem…working in the welfare office.

    My Inner Angry Republican pitches a fit about 50 times a day. And with good reason too.  But my out Professional Social Worker tries to seek better solutions and keep it all in check.

    Money for nothing?! Not really – you have to work (or prepare for work) to be granted cash aid
    But if the parents don’t work the family still gets money True – but we choose to believe the parents are not spending any cash aid on themselves and only on their children
    You are on crack, right? At least tell me you are screening the welfare peeps for drugs. No. We don’t test the parents – but we do ask them 7 questions to screen them for substance use and abuse
    Then you take their money away, right? Of course not. We schedule them for a Clinical Assessment and chose to believe they are not buying beer, weed, crack, coke, schrooms, uppers, downers, etc . We need to believe these drugs are DONATED to them.
    Why do you believe that? Because a habit is expensive, if they could afford a strong heavy habit – they don’t need Welfare funds and we would have to cut them off
    What’s bad about that? Because we know they are not magically “finding” the money and we sleep better knowing the money has at least made it into a parent’s hands and there is a chance that it is being spent on the family
    Do you require receipts for how the cash aid money was spent No
    Why not? Too much trouble
    Don’t you believe that if people were accountable for how the money was spent, they would spend it on toothbrushes and rent etc and not on cat food, veterinary bills, drugs, strip clubs and gambling Did I tell you about the time I did ask for receipts and the person bought job interview clothes at Caesar’s Palace Shops?
    Why did you ask for receipts that time? Well, because GAIN  – or Welfare to Work gives money for job clothing, school books etc.
    Oh, so there is some accountability. How does that work out? One time a lady bought 7 pairs of shoes as her work clothing.
    What, was she a stripper? Many of my clients are strippers or in elicit but legal trades. I give them credit for making the effort.
    So you encourage this activity? I encourage work of any kind. They need to do 32-35 hours of work type activity a week.
    Why only 35? I do at least 40 hours of work and 20 hours of volunteering and have up to 4 kids in my house. I don’t know. At 32 hours an employer is supposed to be offering benefits like health care so families can leave Medi-Cal Insurance.
    What if they don’t want to work or train, etc? Then they can say they have mental health or substance abuse or domestic violence issues or are homeless and the requirement for these hours can be waived temporarily or permanently.
    Are you serious? Of course, It is the compassionate thing to do. If someone is so stressed or overwhelmed that they really cannot function in society; I don’t want to set them up for failure
    So you take their children away, right? Why would we? We take a licensed professionals word – or sometimes the client tells us – that this person cannot work or go to school or do community service. What does that have to do with parenting?
    Well, a 40 hour a week job is easier than 24/7 parenting. Never the less. We trust that these parents are doing what is best for the children.
    Does Welfare really look out for the WELFARE of kids. Kinda,. Sorta. We make food funds and cash aid and medical funding available to the family and trust they are being accessed on behalf and for the benefit of the kids.
    That’s it? Also, we ask that once a year a report card or immunization card is turned in. See, we care.
    But there is a time limit on this, right? Bill Clinton put a time limit. Yes, the Federal Time Limit is 5 years or 60 months of Cash aid per family
    Whey. At least that is clear and simple But some people stay on Cash Aid from the 7th month of pregnancy until their child is 18 years old.
    WTF? Or until the baby graduated from High School. 
    How can you stay on Welfare for over 18 years Easy. Say you were in a domestic violence relationship. Or that you are too emotionally disturbed to hold down a job or really benefit from the program. How can we push you out of the nest?
    OMG Oh, my goodness indeed. See me? I am saving the world over here.
    Do you really feel like that? Of course.
    You’re sick. No. no fever, I feel fine. Thanks for the concern.
    How are you really helping them? I am not. I make sure they have the resources to help themselves. Poverty sucks. People will move on  at their own pace. All I can do is offer options.
    Like what? I will pay for child care so they can work, or I pay for books, fees and supplies for vocational training or college.
    Vocational Training? Sure – you know, so people can be hair dressers and such
    Very few hair dressers live far above the poverty line and there are no medical, dental, vision or life benefits with that position usually Well, then I hope each of them is the next Vidal Sassoon or Jose’ etc. I realy can’t be bothered to make sure it will make them rich or middle class. I just want to say I have “X number of clients participating” and then hope they can keep their heads above water off Welfare.
    Seriously? Seriously.
    Why didn‘t I hear that you pay tuition? Are they required to use their cash aid for tuition? No. The tuition at a public Community College will be waived and Federal or other financial aid will cover it at other types of schools.
    When I went to school, I paid Tuition Well, you should have had a child an not been able to afford it.
    Speaking of that… when new children come into the family – what happens? Usually the Medi-Cal and Food stamps increase but not the cash aid. After all – birth control is free on Medi-Cal.
    Did you say “usually”? Well yes,. Some children are exempt from the Maximum Family Grant.
    Meaning they qualify for raising the family cash aid amount Sure, if they show proof they were on long term birth control like a shot or IUD – or they can say they were raped and then we take their word and cover the baby as well.
    OMG I know. Aren’t we nice? And – we have thousands of families leaving welfare each year.
    How many of them leave before their time limits are up?How many stay on despite the time limits

    How many are forced off or “timed out”?

    I don’t know. But aren’t I nice?

     

     

     

     

    Amen to MEND for the Merry Christmas Adopt A Family Program

    as written about in @ladailynews. This is why I love @mendpoverty1.

    Dennis McCarthy wrote this lovely story: http://www.dailynews.com/news/ci_19521454 .

    To be honest, this is not just a story of how two families connected – it is the spirit of MEND in Pacoima, and the reason I  (way out here in Arcadia) love the San Fernando Valley based charity/neighborhood service center/food bank/low-income medical center-clinic/ dental clinic/ eye clinic/ wellness center /  hot lunch location / place to shower & laundry so much.

    MEND doesn’t do that thing where they count heads and then brag about how many poor people they know and ask you to praise them for stooping to help the needy with expencive ad campaigns. MEND quietly and sincerely embeds itself in the neighborhood and has become the heartbeat in the area.

    I believe that all the families have been matched up, but call 818-897-2443 to ask.

    If you feel like you have something to give but don’t even klnow where to start – start here.

    Toys for infants, children 8-15yrs old, warm blankets, balls, hula hoops, and simple – battery free- toys would be greatly appriciated (unless you can give extra batteries too).

    Donate canned food, fresh turkeys and fresh Ham (please, no canned ham or Spam) to MEND.

    Donating to MEND is a great excuse to drive out to the big blue building on the corner of San Fernando Raod and see what love looks like.

    Nancy Stone, left, and Monica Fregoso share a smile after a shopping trip in Northridge on Dec. 9, 2011. The two have become friends after Stone found Fregoso through MEND and began helping her four years ago. (Andy Holzman/Daily News Staff Photographer)