Friday, October 14, 2016

Paying Attention to What is NOT Being Said: Work Days With VCU ASPIRE

   Once a month we have work days with our community, together with volunteers and on behalf of our non profit; Hands Up Ministries. This past Saturday was one of those days, except that it was raining. So this past rainy, work-day Saturday did not disappoint, there is ALWAYS a life lesson being taught.   Unbeknown to most,  on workdays we have people who are working along side of us, community members,  neighbors, homeowners, children of homeowners, who are living a life struggle of poverty everyday. People who come quietly to serve, to get lifted up,  to be an encouragement to others and some to earn a little extra money. Most times no one even knows, we don't usually bring it to any ones attention.
     Our non profit is multi layered, its not always the obvious, and usually most mission work is that way also. People most time miss the Big Picture. "Why are you serving? Why are you here? What did you do? What did you Learn?" People ask themselves these questions and others ask these same questions to volunteers. I have done "this" for along time, and its been over time that you realize, so many layers exists in mission work. I often pray, "I hope they get the big picture. I hope I see HOPE among the Hopeless, I hope I am taught something I didn't know before today."
     I am rarely disappointed with our work, in fact I am often energized and fired up after a work day. Some days are  even hopeful. It seems to be taking along time for racism to decrease, poverty to decrease, eyes opened to real issues, and what are the answers to such BIG problems as "Black Lives Matter?". We have a board member who is also a community member, we ask her to help us this year to focus on what "Black Lives Matters" means. "We need to do more together, black and white. To dispel myths, to grow closer, to live and learn together." So we will try to focus our HUM efforts on building lives of more meaning.
    This past Saturday we worked in and out of the rain, but at the close of our day we had a neighbor who was working along side of us, "Darius"(not his real name), was asked if he would share his story with the group. Quietly, he agreed. As the VCU students and volunteers listened, Darius shares his agony of being a 30+ year old man who cannot find work as a felon. He has 4 young children ages 12-2, all of which live with their mothers, Darius cannot keep the money or food on the table.
    Asked where he felt like he failed himself he quickly states, "I should have never quit High School." At 15 years old, living with a drug addicted mother who was herself struggling with demons and wasn't able to give proper guidance, Darius walked out of school. He said he thought he knew all the answers to life. "What it got me was time in prison.'' SO now here he sits, a man without direction, his shoulders and head hang low, you can tell he is ashamed of not being able to provide for his family. Asked about his parents today, his father passed when he was just 21, murdered. His mother has recovered from drugs and he lives with her for the time being, but prospects of Darius working are slim.
     Darius' story is not uncommon. The part you rarely hear in a story like this one, is the most important factor: Darius loves his children, just like I love mine. Our life stories don't even come close to comparing. Darius will not make it, he is involved with a girl now who states, "Stay out of trouble or you will not see your two year old son." He is petrified of this, and he's petrified of going back to jail because he cannot pay child support. So his 4 children face the same story of so many kids in poverty, father's who cannot provide for their kids, because they too made poor decisions at a young age. High School graduation among boys in poverty, without stable parenting and no father figures are staggering. We fail are kids here. Kids who lack support at home or from extended family or teachers or friends are leaving school at a faster rate than kids who have support. Most will be headed to prison without guidance, support, or an active pursuit for a trade or business idea that they can make come to a reality.
   How can we help? How can this person's life story be turned around? This is a real person here, with real dreams and he wants to provide for his kids. He remembers what its like to not have things, food, support, a father. We give him HOPE by giving him a second chance. I trust him. We worked side by side. You can see it in his eyes he wants better. His heart is broken. He showed up in the rain to help out on our worksite just incase we could provide him with a little work and a few extra dollars, "it helps me buy pampers". Gut wrenching.
   The answer is to give Darius a trade or some skills, give him a business and he becomes an entrepreneur. The only hope is that he becomes self employed, no one will hire Darius regardless of his character today because his record states "FELON." If he is hired, the wage is so minimal, it never pays for him to live on his own, pay child support for four children and prosper. His outlook is grim with darkness.    
    Darius' story is so like so many other young black men who quit school, lack support, go to prison at a very young age, come out re-offend, and go straight back into prison. This has to stop. Where? In school. The only hope for our future of young black men and women in poverty,  is to keep these kids in school. Prepare them with a trade or get them to college before they even step foot out the door. We (Collectively) don't help the babies of the poor schools realize their dreams. We throw them away. It is a society issue, for all. Do your part.
     One last thing Darius adds to the college crowd is "Stay in school, pick your friends carefully and hang with people who have like dreams." Something a person of stature would say to their children. We throw so many people away, just because they made a few bad decisions before the age of 20. Who hasn't? The moral is those who succeed, usually have support somewhere in their corner.

Monday, April 25, 2016

"Luke" & "Laura": Glen Allen Baptist Answers the Call

CB at Glen Allen Baptist writes:

Well yesterday was an amazing day. Actually the past couple days have been. Nearly 30 people donated to help these folks and we took it down last night. Let me say this, the faith and fellowship from Glen Allen Baptist Church was AMAZING. I will say this, I was beat from running around all day Saturday to pickup goodies. I was so thankful for Paul Tilley, Allen Jenkins, and my father in law to go down with me and help unload. At first "laura" was very standoff-ish and had to think about shaking my hand. "Luke" was there at first as he was coming back from the store with toilet paper. Wish we were a little sooner because they should be set with that for months now. "Luke' and a friend chipped in and help us move things in. We had A LOT of stuff for them. A truck load, Expedition full, and a large trailer with goodies. Full bed with all the sheets and foam pads, blowup mattress, dishes, plates, cups, dinnerware, silverware, couches, dresser, bath towels, hand towels, coffee pot and coffee, microwave, toaster, table, 4 chairs, can opener, cooking utensils, pots and pans, skillets, new pillows, more toilet paper than you can imagine, paper towels, all kinds of personal items, and a HUGE double box serving of baked spaghetti. I think I woke "Laura" up from her spot in the bedroom upstairs. When I came up the stairs with the mattress she cracked a little smile and her face certainly washed over with delight. We told her we weren't through and had more bed items to come. The mattress and box springs were up in the room and cleaned up and when I returned with the bedding and mattress pads she had already moved them into place and had laid out the ultra sound pics of her baby boy. She didn't say anything about them but it was obviously she was letting us know about her special news. By the end of the visit she was talking about the baby and had a full smile on her face. It was an amazing blessing because she is certainly troubled. As we finished unloading and bringing everything in I gave "Luke" some envelopes with other gifts for them. 2 -30 day unlimited bus passes, money for the CARITAS signup, and some letters from folks who donated. On the phone Friday night "Luke" was getting very emotional as I was trying to prepare him for what we had coming down to him. He asked me, can I ask a favor of you? "Could you please give me a list of all the people who have helped us so I can send them a thank you note." My heart melted. "Yes sir, I will do that Luke." When I gave him the list and he realized so many people loved him and wanted to help he was overjoyed enough that I got the biggest bear hug ever!! It was awesome. We ended with a prayer outside of their place and "Luke" joined in. May God watch over these two and keep them in his arms. To God be all the glory!

Cassie Writes:

Amen....I can assure you as I write this line, Chills are running all over by body! THIS MY FRIENDS is THE BODY OF CHRIST, To HIM be the Glory. Let us reach out in love and Kindness, let us remind others we are blessed beyond measure, from this moment I pray we will not only love this couple with our money, we will love them with our hearts, time, and soul. They need LOVE(like we all do) for a lifetime to survive. Loving is sometimes painful, so we will not hurt them with our overindulgence of "THINGS", but commit to loving them with our time. We love them, God heals them.
To Glen Allen Baptist, I am so thankful and super proud of your witness. When you are Called, YOU Move! And thank you for moving immediately, esp. once you met them and saw, they moved from the woods to an empty apartment, and they are children of God!
Loving you all SO much! I know they will be busting! Hoping to see them at "Homeless Mondays!" Not so Homeless anymore!
Love, Cassie Matthew
Thank you to "CB" for taking the ball and running with it. I assure you, you were eternally blessed, and you will never again be quite so afraid!"

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

"Luke" and "Laura" - An Update

Good News - They were able to get an apartment on Monday, based on "Laura's" pregnancy. They are super excited to be out of the woods, able to take showers, and hopefully begin something that is at least safer.
Dilemma of the Homeless & Disabled:
"Laura" is on SSI, her income is $733.00, her rent is $210, they have phones( no judging please they are all but 12 y/o) $110
Bus Fare is $3.00 round trip for each, ($6.00 per day x 5= $30. Month will cost them $120 for Bus fare.
We are now at $283 for both Luke & Laura to live for one month and she is 3 months pregnant.
"Luke" could work, if he had an ID, If "Luke" marries "Laura", they LOSE all her benefits, (how encouraging), money, and housing. If RRHA finds out that "Luke" and his friends( from the woods) are living together in "Laura's" home, she will lose her housing benefits. Right now, its not even possible "Laura" could live alone and make all her apts, and take care of this unborn child and herself, she is completely off all her meds. Sweet baby girl could not even carry on a conversation with me, I quickly could tell she was very uncomfortable surrounded by tons of people, she focused solely on her phone.
So how can we help these two and their baby?
First, they have NOTHING, if you look carefully at "Laura's clothing, she is wearing old clothes from our clothes closet.
They are sleeping on the floor, they are cooking nothing b/c they have come from the woods into an apartment, no cooking gear.
Need: Beds, kitchen cooking ware, linens, lights, dressers etc.
"Laura' needs clothes, summer clothing, she is a pretty small girl.
"Luke is in all winter clothing.
Here is the deal; If you want to donate, YOU will have to deliver.
They need the bare MINIMUM right now, no fluff like: pictures, designer wear, purses, pumps books on marriage etc.
NO Baby stuff YET....They live in church hill in a very nice apt. I will give you their address and their number. I told "Luke" I will TRY to help them, and I'll have to give out his number and address, he agreed.
When/If you call, they might not be perfectly polite, they might not even say thank you a thousands times, they might even be embarrassed, just go to give because its the right thing to do, not because you want them to be thankful. We need to give because they could be our children who are in need, because its called "LOVE."
Be brave, Be an example, Be blessed.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Homeless Mondays - "Luke"

I tried to speak to "Luke" he was spitfire mad( many homeless are) b/c he can't get a job, insurance, assistance of ANY kind, without an ID. He's from NY, he's clean from Heroin, he is "Afraid" to go back. Sweet Luke was told by "the system" he must go BACK to NY to get his documents, no ride, no money, and no possible way to get there....on his own. Secondly, its not the truth. We can get his documents from NY here in Va. little more work, a lot more money, and A lot more time, but we can do it. He was so PISSED, he would NOT listen to me, SO ANGRY, SO HURT!!!!!
It took a few minutes, but I finally got him to sit, by the time we were done talking, tears were running down his face, I was rubbing his sweet face, just like I would my own 22 year old son who is sad for reasons that don't even come close to this sweet babies. Luke's worries are so real, and so hard, and so NOT FAIR, you cannot even wrap your brain around them, and guess what, he looks like my children, he could be yours.
A Little tiny back ground:
"Luke is 24", no job, no family here, off heroin for only a short time, and if you know anyone with a addiction(addictions come in ALL families, they are not "exclusive") he is Terrified he's going to "fall off the wagon"; and we are not talking just any drug, heroin is Powerful and Pleasing, esp. if your life really is full of pain and has no purpose, and you have ZERO FAITH!
"Luke" was adopted at 6, molested by a powerful family member, siblings age 6, 4, 2, all given to the system, same time, split up & adopted, never saw them again. He's a "cutter", he feels very little, he's so out of control, he is spiraling down so fast, he will be lucky to be ALIVE in one year. What reason does he have to live? Right before he left NY, his dying mother(born 1964) gave him train fair with his promise he'd get clean, she died of cancer, he wasn't there. He has not spoken to any one in his family in years, remember, "Luke is a mere 24."
In Va., no ID, Living in the woods, first time at homeless monday's, so angry he's hard to speak to, and if you are hard to speak to, no one cares, and you push any possibility of help away. His "autistic girlfriend" is pregnant, 6 weeks. "I'm so stressed, I cannot get her to help herself, go to the doctors, go see her case worker(they are in the woods together, in the elements) and last night we had a fight and she "LEFT" in the middle of the night! "She scared me to death", I'm not sure I can do this!"
So what do you say? I'm not sure you are going to make it my what I'm thinking. I told him I can help him get his ID, quickly SNAPS BACK "NO YOU CAN'T!" I can. "No ONE Can help me!"I said: If you trust me with ALL your personal information, I want to try, please. He gives me ALL his info, we sit down, he tells me a 4 minute glimpse of his life, most( or I better say many) of us cant even sit and listen to our OWN kids 4 mins we are so BUSY!
I took his number, ALL I committed to was "Trying" to get his documents, so he can get a $10.00 Va. I.D......You guys have no idea the hurdle we place on individuals just to get an ID! We are not even talking a Drives license, just a simple Identification card.
This sweet, little broken boy, who has cut marks on both arms, who wants to take your head off, who has a dead mother, no father, adopted at 6, never knew what happened to his siblings, no connection to ANYONE....wants a $10 dollar ID to work! We are so ridiculously screwed up in this city, we make it nearly impossible for our friends to get off the STREETS, even when they want to...and now, he has a pregnant (autistic) girlfriend, who he Loves!
My head was spinning. At first he just wanted a belt. "I just need a belt" he barked. Another homeless man took HIS out of his bag, and gave it to him. Grace. Pray for our friend. I pray I can really get his documents, I pray I do not pummel the DMV with a smart bomb( makes you understand smart bomb). I pray God does something big with this baby boy, the odds are so against him. I knew another kid like "Luke" he came into my life for almost 2 years, and his story was so similar, Joe killed himself at 20 while I was in Haiti.
What will happen to our sweet "lukie?"
My final words as I stroked his sweet little face( his beard) was "your mama loves you" and "God gave you a redeeming purpose" and "You are NOT going to get any help being so angry at people!" "I know why you are ANGRY, you are broken just like ME, but you are empty brother, and you need your cup filled!" Please, be patient, take care of YOU first, and I will try to help you get ONE $10.00 ID! He walked off with his bologna sandwich and his applesauce.....starving.
Just take note: my 22 year old son eats 4000 Calories a meal as an athlete, Luke is eating his bologna sandwich. Heartbroken for our friends, "Please Lord help him!, I pray.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Farewell, "Percy"

If I had to spend one day in "Percy's " shoes, I'd be defeated. More like, I'd be a Quitter! Meet our new Bestie, " Percy" with his permission I write. 
Percy talked to many on homeless Monday, including the teenage boys. He so wanted to share his story of being homeless in Richmond, and he had only been here a week. I was curious how he was being treated through our system, it's far from "Southern Hospitality!" He saw us drop off our goods at the overflow during the storm, the next time we saw each other was Monday. The last time we saw each other was saying " Farewell " on Tuesday as I dropped him at the bus station. Let's just clear it up, being homeless is not an easy gig. I'd fail. For most it's not a choice, it's a a stream of unlikely events. 
Percy's story is no different. He spent the last 9 years in Prison, of a 30 year sentence. Robbery. For the next 20 years Percy is under fear of making any more mistakes. The offenders call it " borrowed time." They live in fear of being accused or wrongly accused and being sent back to prison. It doesn't take much and he's locked back up to FINISH his remaining time.Can you imagine always being under suspicion. One of my friends( prison buds) says it better to " time out"(do your whole sentence) then be sent out on parole because of the way you are treated on the outside. I was shocked in my little naive squeaky clean life. Percy's story starts in Hillside Court, the projects on Southside. One of 5 siblings; he's the baby. He mother has since passed, his father and his siblings are estranged. Most have / had drug issues. I asked Percy " why?" Just a simple question. He said I've never been asked " why?" Why did you veer down this path? At first he doesn't understand, then I explain drugs are a symptom of a broken journey. Tears begin to stream down his 6'9 body. He was molested as a boy. He said not ONE person in his life had asked him these questions. After 9 years in prison, he had never received any kind of therapy, just continued drug use behind bars. He was given to the foster care system early in age, " I was hyper and slow"!" That is what he was told, that's how he remembers it.That is who he thinks he is today. The rest is history, a life of hurt equals brokenness, drugs mask the pain, crime buys the drugs, we lock him up and keep him fearful. We don't even know the WHOLE story, this is just a sliver of his pain. So we did what we could with band aids, Percy fled Roanoke a week ago, quit his job and came to Richmond with high hopes. Upon arrival to our beautiful city HE was robbed of all his personal belongings that fit in a bag, a duffle, his birth certificate, his phone his clothes. Gone. 
Thanks to Tracy Bruce Clark and Chris Clark, Percy has new clothes, a hot shower, ( thanks to 2nd Presbyterian) and clean clothes he was able to wash at the Church. Please note: anything can land him back in prison if he makes one mistake. He was working in Roanoke after leaving prison in September; lived in a boarding home and ran into the wrong crowd. He feared he'd make a mistake and fled to Richmond due to circumstances surrounding his housing. Unfortunately, you can't leave town without notifying your Parole Officer, he did not. Yesterday he felt panic, he was due today to check into his PO's office by 6pm, take a drug test, you don't miss your apt., no one cares why. We(Percy, myself & Ginger) called all day, left messages, no return call. So he had to get back to Roanoke. ASAP. Ginger Evans purchased him a bus ticket and he was on his way by 8pm. We heard today he made it safe and sound. He wants to come back to Richmond. He has many hurdles to overcome to make that happen. He did get his job back in Roanoke, at the waffle/ chicken house. Sweet Ginger called for him, he said "I'm not fired?" They love him, he's a hard worker.Where will he stay? When he was here he stayed at the overnight shelter. Sleeping in chairs that were once court room chairs. No sleeping on floors the homeless were told. He cleaned the bathrooms for food. This is not the way people, real people, with real names, real stories, should live. What is wrong with RICHMOND, Va.,that we as a city cannot Fix this issue of homelessness? I don't really see it as such a hard hurdle to overcome. You cannot know people by name, "Percy", and not want to FIX homelessness. You go to bed praying for men(i do) byname. "Lord, let him get there on time, let his PO be kind, let him please get a break, someone give him more than min. wage.Lord, are WE the Answer?' "YES", WE ARE! I woke up tuesday went to my car and there was an envelope on my dash, i opened it, it was ALL of Percy's itinerary, his ticket, hotel stay, confirmations.....I was sick. I drove off from Greyhound and never looked back. Thankfully, he had Ginger's phone number, thankfully some dear soul "allowed" him use of their phone, he called. He just can't get a break. Pray for our friends, more than that SCREAM for solutions. And when asked, give what you can....we know them by name.