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 love MEND and Meet Each Need with Dignity loves me!

MENDlogo07_tinyOr that is how I feel this week. It is National Volunteer Month and I have been putting my money where my mouth is at @MENDPOVERTY – or actually my fingers all over my phone!

Here, in the Welfare Office, I tell everyone to volunteer as much as they can. It is great for the resume, builds skill sets and gets you out of the house to see new people and adventures.  Join me http://mendpoverty.org/get-involved/volunteer-now/ or volunteer somewhere special to you.

Last week I sent an e-mail to the president of the West Side Referrals Le Tip @WRNLeTip  explaining my belief that consumers are happier to spend money with businesses (large and small) that are engaged in benefitting the community. I think big businesses know that and that is why they announce their sponsorships so loudly. It is the reasons small businesses sponser local softball and soccer teams and display their plaques on the walls where customers can see them.  I think that if you are looking for people to promote your business, a charitable cause is great publicity and all it takes is a little time or money. (or a lot, depending)

Anyway – I am not a business and I am not looking for money. I just wanted to set an example for my kids and my clients that you can have a full and busy life while still volunteering somewhere meaningful and that there is a volunteer possibility out there for whatever your skill set is.

So, why do I feel like MEND loves me? Because they made me their Administrative Dept Volunteer of the Year. Wow. Just wow. I am blown away and so happy!

I will be even more happy to see you all volunteering somewhere too!

Dignity for the Poor

Should Poverty come with “Perks”? #fb

@MENDPOVERTY posted a picture of the hot meal they served in the main Pacoima building yesterday. Someone commented that it that is how the poor are eating ; he would quit his job.

To be fair, the head of the food department Richard Weinroth used to own his own restaurant and his cooking is yummy. In turn he is teaching cooking to the volunteers in the department as well as bringing in school kids from the neighborhood and teaching them cooking as well. But let’s forget all of that and get down to emotions.

Let’s not be fair. Let’s talk about how you feel.

When you see someone on public cash assistance and you see them drinking a beer, or smoking a cigarette, or getting a tattoo, or drinking a Starbucks: are you mad? Do you feel that they are infringing on the rights that only people who are not on aid should have?

I get irate. I will be honest. I see parents bring their kids to my office wearing Burger King Crowns and wearing name brand clothing. When I ask if they had the clothes donated or where they bought them – I often hear that they shopped at pricey clothing stores in the mall that I don’t dare wander in to and paid a quarter of their cash aid for the month in clothes purchases.

Am I mad that poor people have nice things?


Am I frustrated that responsible economic choices are not being made?

I am never mad that someone has nice things. I am annoyed that as a population we have made a social contract to assist the poor in surviving poverty: they are given enough financial, medical and food assistance to keep poverty from being lethal and to give them room to pull themselves into a better fiscal situation – but it does not seem to be helping some people. The system is labeling them and crippling them with the Stigma of “Welfare Queens”, “Welfare Moms” and “Deadbeats” . This harms them so badly that people are not asking for help at all because they don’t want to be labeled as worthless.

Poverty is, after all an economic state and not a statement of personal worth.

I want people in poverty to thrive; in fact I count on it professionally. I want to see growth and education and employment and so see people rise from daily struggle to economic security.

I feel betrayed when I see someone pull out the EBT (Welfare checks come on a debit card these days) card and pay full price for anything. If you don’t use coupons with your Food Stamp Funds I want to kidnap you and make you watch episodes of Extreme Couponing with me. I believe a Smart Phone is a necessity for leaving poverty – but I don’t believe you need 2 iPads to go with it.

I have been so poor that you could not measure the desperation I felt when the DPSS office screwed me over and “forgot” to do an update and I had to wait days for food-stamps or the cash aid – meanwhile I had a 3-year-old who needed diapers and I was out of milk. And I worked and I went to school, and I found creepy crappy jobs that I hated and I worked them until I came to sit here in the GAIN office trying desperately not to screw up my cases for other people who are in the same economic spot I was.

Perhaps that is why I feel entitled to tell people on entitlements to make the money last and not think of it as free money. that money is a social contract and I think we can expect people who are receiving it to spend it in the spirit it is issued. It is a tool, not a toy.

No. I don’t ever want to see Purple P’s on the lapels of the poor to identify them as impoverished, and I don’t think they should eat gruel (porridge – oatmeal etc) and stale bread.

I want us to have a responsible system od balanced respect. We could be poor at any time :  the poor are hopefully on their way out of that classification and their tax dollars will fund the hopes and change of others.

So, eat your fancy lunches, and then stick around to learn to grow the ingredients and cook it for yourself.

The @MendPoverty Wish List

  • Volunteers Needed:
  • Registered Dental Assistant– 4+hrs/wk
  • Endodontists /Oral Surgeons– 3-6 hrs/mo
  • Receptionists– 3.5hrs/wk Sat 9am-12:30pm or 4hrs/wk Tues, Thurs or Fri am
  • Data Entry Volunteers– 2-8 hrs/wk
  • Outreach Associate – 5hrs/mo (schedule varies)
  • Keyboarding Teacher– Tues-Fri pm
  • Microsoft Office Teacher and/or Asst.– Tues-Fri pm
  • Clothing sorters– Sat 9am-3pm
  • Client intake volunteers– Sat 9am-12pm
  • Home visitors– 3hrs/wk or 1X/mo
  • Pharmacists
  • Physicians
  • Optometrist
  • Tutors
  • ESL teachers
  • Driver –

Items Needed:


  • • Toothbrushes • Dental Floss • Mouthwash
  • • Zip loc bags • Toiletries for shower program
  • • Disposable Razors • Combs
  • • Lightweight Plastic Tote Cart (with handle)
  • • Dolly Cart • Computers, used or new
  • • Monitors • Keyboards • Mouse
  • • Printing Paper • Printer Ink
  • • Food Models for Health Education
  • • Digital automatic pill counter
  • • X-Ray Duplicator • Men’s Clothing
  • • Women’s Clothing • Shelving for storage
  • • New/Gently used Undergarments
  • • Box Cutters • Packing Tape • Tape Guns
  • • Copy paper

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

Be a Celebrity- Reason 1 to Volunteer

Have you ever met a celebrity – or seen one on TMZ?  Everyone wants to be near them, get a picture with them – perhaps an autograph? Why? Because a large portion of the general population has decided to CELEBRATE someone – they have won a popularity contest somewhere and if we can just get close enough to them: maybe some of that COOL will wear off on us too!

 I can’t get you on TMZ – but if you are really cool:  I can and WILL put you on the internet. But only if you do something that I Celebrate and think is really cool.


You are the best thing you can give. (No, I am not advocating giving a kidney or bone marrow ,although there are people who would really appreciate that –  and frankly I would post your picture for something like that). 

How can you volunteer? When should you do it? How do you prove it to me?   Simple.

 Make a list of all your good qualities, talents, skills, etc.

  1. You can read (or else you are just staring at this web page for nothing my friend)
  2.  You care about  ________________ People, animals, the environment, fashion
  3. Can you cook?
  4. Are you good at crafts?
  5. Do people like you?
  6. How are your office and typing and telephone skills?
  7. Do you have a nice smile?

 Once you know what you have to offer – find somewhere to share it. Seriously – if you need help finding somewhere – just ask me : I will give you the hook up.

Schedule a date to volunteer 

Do it !!!! and ask someone to take a picture of you. 

Then email it to me with your story of what you did – did you like it – will you do it again. My email is homelessinla@gmail.com


PS, real celebs volunteer all the time. They loan themselves and their names to causes. Look what activism did for BONO and ANGELINA ?

Adopt a Family for the Holidays

If you want to give to a person, a child, a FAMILY this holiday season instead of (or in addition to) an agency – check out the LA COUNTY DPSS Adopt a Family Program.

Here is all the information you need.

Adopt-A-Family Program!

Bring joy to someone’s life this holiday season and become a sponsor in the Department of Public and Social Services (DPSS) Adopt-A-Family program. Each year, this heartfelt and longstanding tradition continues to bring smiles to hundreds of needy families served by DPSS.

Los Angeles County staff, individuals, groups, community members, and local businesses can all participate in this joyous and gratifying event by sponsoring families. Sponsors are provided with the “adoptee’s” contact information along with their “wish list” of requested items. These items range from grocery items, clothing, gift certificates, or toy requests. The ‘Spirit of Giving’ is contagious and numerous volunteers who in past years have participated in this program have voiced this heartfelt sentiment. Volunteers so enjoy participating in the program that some gather together family, friends, and co-workers and hold “gift basket parties” where each person contributes items and their personal touch to the specially prepared holiday baskets. This activity is fun for the volunteers and a delight for the beneficiaries to receive!

The Adopt-A-Family program’s continued success can be attributed to the hundreds of volunteers that see the program as a worthwhile endeavor and generously donate their time and gifts. Los Angeles is fortunate to have caring people sharing and bringing joy to those in need.

The Adopt-a-Family program is the gift that can be enjoyed and cherished year-round by the Adoptee and the Sponsor alike. If you, a group of co-workers, family members, or friends are looking to make a difference this Holiday Season, the Adopt-A-Family is the program for you. Choose to make a difference in someone’s life this holiday season and keep the spirit of effective and caring service alive.


For information call (213) 744-4348 or e-mail dpssvolunteers@dpss.lacounty.gov “

Volunteer to Serve Holiday Dinners in Pasadena

Volunteer registration is now open! REGISTER NOW! Serve LA / Mosiac are partnering with Union Station Homeless Services to run their volunteer coordination for Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinners in the park, where thousands of local families and individuals in need are fed and served every year.

We need YOUR help specifically to assist with Volunteer Registration and check in duties from 9am-1pm on Thanksgiving day. Families are welcome to assist with the food pantry position. We will also have a childrens’ play area in the park (must be supervised by a parent).

You can register online here. https://ushs.wufoo.com/forms/mosaic-dinner-in-the-park-volunteer-registration/

You Don’t have to be @ParisHilton

or rich or famous to make a change and to do good. All you have to be is …you!

The world doesn’t need to know and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. To those whose lives you touch,YOU are the best gift of all.

What do you do? Do you do it well? Do you do it for fun? Is there something about it that you can share with anyone else? Use what you have – as an individual, as a group, or as a company.

It can be simple.

It doesn’t need to be pumpkins and food for everyone – but good on Paris for using what she has to do the most good at The Union Rescue Mission. Extra props for bringing her friends and family.

It doesn’t have to be a world wide awareness  campaign woven into a glamorous television show like The Bold and the Beautiful.

It has to be true to you and who you are. This soap opera story is haunting me because of the simple truth shown in a scene on skid row. There is a girl, Dayzee, who literally has nothing but the desire to be kind. She holds babies, hugs friends and shares food with her friends.  She doesn’t have money, but she does have the respect and appreciation of those around her – even those who are not helped by her but only see her good works.

I tell you often about my heroes but  you don’t need to run a homeless service agency like The Rev. Bales or Natalie Komuro, or travel America like Mark Horvath, or donate your legal services like Andrea Caster- but if you had a calling to make it your daily work – then do it. But if it isn’t your calling – just a small desire to help somehow: do that. Do something small, and then do it over and over again.

You don’t have to live near skid row, or even give your service to the homeless. The key is to make a change and make the world a better place in a way that only you can and in a place near where you live.

Think simple, think fun, and then stop thinking.




Then tell me about it.