New Kid on the Blog
To the delight of many, both President Obama and Governor Nixon have recently espoused the virtues of early childhood education. Even better, they also said they support more funding for “high quality” early education.
Research has told us, over and over, that the benefits of early childhood education are significant for children and the greater community. In particular, the work of Nobel Prize winning economist Dr. James Heckman has been sighted by many. Heckman states, “Both cognitive and non-cognitive skills are important of success in school and in life. The enriched early childhood interventions have had their greatest impacts on creating motivation and successful attitudes among participants… Comparing their social and economic outcome to those of similar children denied access to these environments by randomization, one finds that the treated children perform better at school, are less likely to drop out of school, and are more likely to graduate high school and to attend college”. Heckman asserts that early childhood education makes our children more productive and our society better.
Intuitively, most all of us agree with the notion of providing enriching activities and environments to our young children are positive things. The challenge moving forward is twofold:
- Do we have the political will to provide the resources to ensure quality pre-k is available to all children?
- What do we do after they enter kindergarten?
The second issue is rarely talked about and I would like to spend a moment on this important next step.
So, let’s assume we all can agree that quality pre-k is important and we figure out how to fund that delivery system. Now, our kids enter kindergarten and those children who live in poverty, close to 100,000 in the metro area, still struggle with all that poverty brings. Do they lose any of the gains they made in the quality pre-k? If so what are the implications. Much research has indicated that reading on grade level in 3rd grade is a great predictor of longitudinal success. The University of Chicago conducted a long term study of 26,000 children in the Chicago Public Schools and stated;
“Findings from this study are consistent with existing literature that emphasizes the importance of early reading ability for future educational success. Third-grade reading level was shown to be significant predictor of eighth-grade reading level and ninth-grade course performance even after accounting for demographic characteristics and how a child’s school influences their individual performance. Third-grade reading level was also shown to be a predictor of graduation and college attendance, even when demographic characteristics were included as controls.”
The Annie E. Casey Foundation funded a study that reviewed historical data for 4,000 students, following the line from reading scores to graduation. The study’s author, Donald Hernandez, asserts that, “A student who can’t read on grade level by 3rd grade is four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who does read proficiently by that time.” While those numbers certainly emphasize the effect of 3rd grade reading scores, perhaps even more staggering are his findings: “Overall, 22 percent of children who lived in poverty do not graduate from high school, compared to 6 percent of those who have never been poor. The figure rises to 32 percent for students spending more than half of their childhood in poverty.” The link between poverty and education is blatant and cannot be ignored.
Have we heard anyone clamor to ensure that all children read on grade level at third grade? Moreover, what are we doing to assist children and families living in poverty, to provide them the supports they need to succeed? Can we expect a child to learn if their living arrangements are in question everyday?
So much of what most of us have in front of us, whether we recognize it or not, provides our children every opportunity to succeed. Our housing, our neighborhood, with policing, transportation and a whole host of other resources provide a platform for our experiences, whether positive or negative. In essence, home matters. Home is much more than the house we live in, it is the life in and around that house that fuels the success of our children, our families and our neighborhoods.
It’s great to want quality pre-k for all our children but then what? Is our societal job over? Do we wave to our five year olds and wish them good luck or do we stay committed to their success recognizing if they succeed, we succeed?
What can we do to help our children succeed? How do we help build a strong “home” — that is, the life in and around the house– so that poverty does not have the final say when it comes to the future of our children? I believe some of the answers and challenges are before us. We need to build safe and decent affordable housing. If we want children to succeed beyond pre-K, we must create a pipeline of cradle to career services that support the educational success of our children. And the list goes on…
This work isn’t easy; but, it’s imperative if we want to help level the playing field for all children. All of us in one way or another can help support organizations and initiatives that are seeking to do just that. One new opportunity is to join a new national movement that Beyond Housing is a part of – Home Matters. Home Matters is a movement uniting America around Home as the place where lives and families thrive, and as the bedrock for a stronger nation. Home Matters reminds us that Home is where we are nourished, protected, supported, encouraged to dream and enabled to thrive. Please join us at www.homemattersamerica.com and follow us on Twitter @homemattersusa.
Are we ready to do the important work, the hard work of making sure our children are successful? I hope so.
Heckman, James, J., University of Chicago, “The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children”, October 4, 2004 pg. 33-34
Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, “Reading on Grade Level in Third Grade: How is it Related to High School Performance and College Enrollment”, July 2010, Executive Summary
Now, there are two words we rarely hear used together. Recently, I have been reflecting about my almost twenty years of leading Beyond Housing. We remain steadfast in the belief that Home Matters and that, with our partners, we will create home for many more in the future. The journey has been full of many ups and downs, highs and lows; but, we are clearly a much different organization, in every way, than we were in 1993. The constants in this two decades long story are growth and love. Growth in that, from our annual budget, to number of employees, to families served, to lines of business, to size of our balance sheet , we have grown dramatically. Love in that, what I have been asking my board, my staff, our partners, our supporters to do, in essence, is to care about those that we so proudly serve each and every day.
Let’s dig into growth for a moment. Economist Dr. Gary Kunkle is the author of TheBuildNetwork.com’s new publication “Build – All Growth is Not Created Equal”, which studied companies in multiple sectors over the last twenty years to determine why only a small handful remained successful over time and continued to grow. His conclusion was “It’s a modern Aesop’s tortoise and hare story. Slow and steady wins the race. Incremental advancement, repeated over time, achieves greater results in the long run than a few shorter bursts”. I don’t pretend that our humble not- for-profit fits into the category of the great companies Kunkle studied; but, we mirror their paths. So. here is a quick chart that shows Beyond Housing’s growth which has been incremental over the last twenty years.
|Lines of Business||1||3|
|Dedicated Senior Units||0||42|
|Grocery Stores Owned||0||1|
|Families Served Annually||100||2,500|
The narrative behind the statistics above, following Kunkle’s research of slow and steady growth, will include that we were only operating our rental housing with services in 1993; then, in 1997, adding community building, in 2003 via a merger, we added homeownership creation services, in 2007 we added foreclosure prevention services and in 2009 we expanded our community building efforts. All along the way, we methodically built our rental housing portfolio. Our growth has been steady and unrelenting and, in 2013, we plan to continue. As Kunkle stated, “Growth is a learning curve. As firms grow more often, they learn how to do it again and again”.
Now let’s talk about love. It is my sense that most of us only feel comfortable using the word love in talking about family or close friends. If asked do you love, can you love people you do not know, I think most would want to say yes; but, would, in some way, qualify their response. The ironic dichotomy of a not-for-profits success is the “business” metrics listed above; but, also that organization’s ability to gain support for their work by asking others to care or to love those they do not know. Can we answer Elizabeth Alexander’s question in her poem, “Praise Song for the Day” written for the first Inauguration of President Obama? “What if the mightiest word is love? Love beyond marital, filial, national love that casts a widening pool of light”. The story of Beyond Housing’s work is one of success in how we deliver our mission and not only its success; but, the humanity behind that success. When I tell our story, I know some get excited by the success we have had and the comprehensive nature of our efforts. But others are clearly moved that we truly make a difference in the lives of those we serve. This fact follows the Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton’s sense that “The gift of love is the gift of the power and the capacity to love, and therefore, to give love with full effect is also to receive it. So, love can only be kept by being given away, and it can only be given perfectly when it is also received”. As I think about 2013, my twentieth year leading Beyond Housing, I remain unwavering in my desire to have us grow so we may serve more families and that we give more opportunities to give love to one another.
I hope you can join us.
In the last several weeks, the St. Louis Public Schools and the Normandy School District traded places on the list of unaccredited and provisionally accredited schools. Congratulations to the city schools for regaining provisional status and good luck to Normandy on its journey back to accreditation.
Here in the St. Louis region, we typically only talk about our public school challenges or occasionally the Kansas City challenges; but, the list of unaccredited and provisional schools in Missouri, in addition to St. Louis and Normandy, includes Calhoun, Caruthersville, Gilliam, Gorin, Hayti, Hickman Hills, Jennings, Malta Bend, Spickard, Swedeborg and Riverview Gardens. In total, these fourteen districts come from all across the state and are rural, urban, large, small, predominantly white, predominantly African- American; but, they have at least one thing in common…a higher than the state average of children eligible for and receiving free and reduced lunches. This translates into children and their families living at or near the poverty rate. In Missouri, a family of 4 is eligible for free or reduced lunch if their gross annual income is at or below $29,965. Those of you with children please take a moment and do the math on how you would make less than $2,500 stretch for everything you need in a given month.
The state of Missouri’s average free and reduced lunch per district is 49.5% – an alarming statistic in and of itself. The fourteen districts that are unaccredited or provisionally accredited have free and reduced lunch percentages range from 55.6 in Spickard to 92.7 in Riverview Gardens. These figures represent the fact that families struggle to make ends meet each and every day. This struggle, in turn, increases the likelihood of external stress factors like the inability to stay current on rent or mortgage, keeping utility bills manageable and putting food on your table. These real life dilemmas occupy parents minds and time and make it difficult to stay focused on their children’s academic lives. Creating a stable sense of home is truly difficult.
While there has been a growing recognition of the correlation between poverty and school performance, little has been to done to systemically address it. Recently, a survey for the Normandy Schools indicated that 111 organizations were working with the schools. This activity, unless strategically planned, will have minimal value. Here are some of the next steps that will and need to happen next:
- The school district must prioritize what external programs are needed to keep a laser focus on student achievement.
- Only programs in these prioritized areas and with demonstrated, quantifiable impacts will be partners moving forward.
- Our regional funding community must allocate dollars to these impactful programs prioritized by the school district.
- School districts must push for scale in all programs to ensure that student achievement turns into school district success.
- Funding from the public sector, local, state and federal should prioritize funding to areas with clearly defined school support programs that have impact and scale. These public funds need to be in all areas of community from housing, social services, economic development, health and wellness and others.
As the struggles of school districts across the state reflect, it is not size or geography that will determine success; but, rather the quality of the education being provided and our ability to support the families and neighborhoods where the schools are located. We need to recognize that where a child lives – their house, their apartment and their neighborhood – matters. In essence, home matters. Home is about the life that happens in and around the house as well as the life that fuels and draws out the best of people within it.
Webster defines grace in several ways, here are two:
- disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency
- ease and suppleness of movement or bearing.
A flight attendant on one of my recent trips exhibited these qualities. I was in the last seat in the back of the plane and one of the last to board the plane. As I kept walking back to my seat, this flight attendant, who was standing in the very back of the plane, smiled ever so slightly and motioned me to my seat with her eyes. I did not give much thought to this brief first encounter with this graceful woman.
The plane takes off with the flight attendant sitting slightly behind me over my right shoulder in that odd middle of the plane seat all the way in the back. She still has yet to speak a word to me or anyone else. She was not rude; but, actually, was very observant to all those around her. Once we leveled off at our cruising attitude of 38,000 feet, she gets up to start the beverage service on the plane. She walks the cart all the way back to my “back of the bus” seat. She looks at me with eyes that are soft and caring and simply nods down to the cart. I knew remarkably what she was asking and I reply, “a Pepsi please”. She pours my drink, hands it to me and I say thank you. She again smiles, nods and continues her work to the front of the plane. Her calmness has now drawn my attention. I watch her as she serves row after row of travelers on the full flight and she does not utter a single solitary word. She either looks at each passenger with her calm carrying eyes and either nods down to the cart or tilts her head sideways ever so slightly. Either move gets the desired response without needing any verbal communication. There are about four or five passengers that she gently taps to get their attention and does her extremely effective work of nodding or tilting her head. I watch her move away from me. Three rows, five rows, ten rows and then finally at now row 12 or 13 away from me, I see her move and she says or may just mouth the word water.
I realize that there is a certain peacefulness on the plane. I also realize that I am both mesmerized by and lost in the gracefulness of how she is doing her job.
A flight attendant’s job can be pretty thankless at times. This woman, however, brought such an air of dignity and caring to her job that one could not help but to appreciate her work.
As we prepared to land, she came back to get buckled in her seat and I tell her of my admiration at how she does her job. She looks a bit embarrassed about the attention paid to her; but, when I say, “Look , you just do your job really well”. She humbly smiles, clasps her hands and bows in a Buddha Namaste like manner to thank me.
I share this story to remind each of us to not get so lost in our worlds that we don’t truly see the people we interact with each and every day, who quietly and professionally offer their services. Many of the people Beyond Housing proudly serves work at many of the places we all frequent daily. These folks make our daily routines possible and allow us to live the lives we desire. Don’t let our busy lives, our phones and other gadgets mask the humanity that we come into contact with each day. I hope you will take time to notice and be surprised at the number of humble, talented people that you come across during what seems like the frenetic pace of your day. Finally, I hope that, as you see these remarkable and graceful people, you pause a moment and thank them for what they do.
On August 28th, the St. Louis County Council approved bill number 174 in a very quick and simple vote that took less than five minutes to complete. The ordinance created a foreclosure mediation process for all homeowners facing the loss of their home. If one just sat in the audience for this vote, it would appear that this was a simple, straight forward piece of public sector work. Here’s the rest of the story.
Almost a year earlier, I approached a Beyond Housing Board Member and County Council Member, Hazel Erby, about the idea of creating such an ordinance in St. Louis County. Hazel knew first-hand about the foreclosure challenges in her council district because she has fielded many calls from distraught homeowners who were in jeopardy of losing their homes. She heard their hearts breaking about losing their homes and their frustration with the process of working with the lenders. She also knew that St. Louis County was experiencing over 4,000 foreclosures annually and saw the great economic toll it was taking on so many communities.
We began by researching the best practices in foreclosure mediation from all around the country. Over 20 states had already implemented foreclosure mediation and we wanted to take what they had learned to make the County process the best it could be. This research was done in large part by Karen Tokarz, who is the Charles Nagel Professor of Public Interest Law and Public Service and Director of the Dispute Resolution Program at Washington University School of Law. Karen and her third year law student did outstanding work gathering information from other programs to help craft our work. We made a conscious decision to not attempt to change state law due to the political landscape in our state capital. Instead, we focused on a local solution.
Early on, we talked to professionals in the housing counseling community to hear from them the challenges that occur in their day to day attempts to prevent foreclosures from occurring. We established communications with lenders about what we were thinking. While we did not get great feedback from the lenders, who would prefer less regulation, most understood that the national system of loan servicing and foreclosure prevention was not working very well. This fact has been affirmed by the many judgments and settlements by the largest servicers in the country including the massive $26 billion settlement with 49 states over inappropriate practices. We tried to determine whether there were any alternatives to legislation; but, we could not come up with a comprehensive delivery system that could be paid for. So we kept moving forward.
Next, thanks to Karen Tokarz, we brought in U.S. Arbitration and Mediation to seek their participation as the 3rd party mediator. They jumped in with enthusiasm and professionalism about their role. They even offered to perform their work at a discounted price. We could not have been more fortunate in finding such a critical partner right here in our own backyard.
Finally, we met with a variety of county departments including the county counselor that would be involved in this new system. Everyone was enthusiastic about creating a process to keep more families in their homes. Still, it took time, various meetings and follow-up to create a system that would not interfere with the state process. The many different departments had to agree about the additional responsibilities they would take on and how they would coordinate across silos on implementation. We worked on all the moving parts and assessed the missing parts. We wanted to work through many of the key logistics beforehand so that there would be an easier transition from legislation to implementation. Eventually, we felt good enough about where we were. So, now it was time to get the legislation moving. We were thrilled when the St. Louis County Municipal League joined the chorus of supporters to make this happen.
Hazel was excited, but a little worried about what the response would be from some of her peers and others in the community. What she and all of us heard was individuals who had lost their homes were in favor and wished it would have been in place earlier. Some from the lending community were not supportive and threatened law suits if the legislation was adopted. Hazel remained steadfast and we kept giving the facts, data and research information, particularly from Todd Swanstrom from the University of Missouri – St. Louis, affirming that mediation was the right way to proceed. Personal testimonies from homeowners, counselors and concerned citizens also really made a difference. The Foreclosure Task Force led by the St. Louis Urban League and organizing groups like Metropolitan Congregations United and Missouri Organizing for Reform and Empowerment made sure that the voices of those affected most by the foreclosure crisis were at the forefront. Lots of meetings, phone calls and nervous moments later, the County Council voted 5-2 in favor of the ordinance!
One last note, the two council members who voted against the ordinance respected Hazel so much that they allowed for an accelerated vote process on August 28th to move the bill forward. They did not agree with the ordinance, but they recognized Hazel’s commitment to it; and the other four council members also affirmed their positions. This is County government at its best. This display of respect for each other should be replicated in our state and our nation’s capital.
Public policy can really work if constituents voice concerns, elected officials listen and act, community partners bring their expertise and all those involved live by the notion that people of good will can disagree. I was proud to play a small role in this very important piece of public policy.
This past week, a large Homeland Security Truck has been parked outside Frison’s Flea Market in Pagedale. For the third time in seven years, the flea market has been shut down for selling illegal “knockoff” products. Lots of folks in this region knew, if they wanted a knockoff Gucci, Coach or other high end brand product, that a vendor at Frison’s Flea Market would have it. Most customers live in many of the surrounding communities. Local television had interviews from several young, white women who said they “came in” to find a good deal. They came in because communities that are strong and healthy do not allow businesses such as flea markets, particularly ones that sell illegal knockoffs.
Now, I am not a hater of flea markets if they operate legally and have some benefit to the community they operate in. Flea markets, nor their vendors, pay sales tax for the products they sell. They simply get a license to operate in a community. Frison’s Flea Market sits adjacent to the Metrolink stop on St. Charles Rock Road and is a vacant sea of asphalt most of each and every week. What could/should be a hub of activity that benefits the community is either a vacant wasteland weekdays or a beehive of dubious activity on the weekends.
So why does Pagedale allow this to happen? First, selling knockoff products is a federal crime, not local. So, Pagedale has no jurisdiction. Second, there has been a degree of apathy from the federal authorities on crimes like this which has allowed it to continue. Third, Pagedale would rather see a building occupied than vacant if possible. Lastly, communities that are struggling are the home of last resort for junk yards, scrap metal recyclers, check cashing places, pawn shops and flea markets. Each of the businesses has every right to operate and try to make a profit – legally. They are, however, not wanted or, in many cases, not allowed in other communities. So, should a community allow these types of places to operate or possibly have another vacant building? A difficult question to answer.
Beyond Housing’s response is to work with community leaders and residents to make the place they call home better. Better from a physical standpoint, better from a social standpoint and better from an economic standpoint. A great supporter of our work always tells me to find “the highest and best use” of our funds. The highest and best use of the land adjacent to the Metrolink St. Charles Rock Road station is not a flea market. Maybe we could have some housing for folks who could take the Metrolink to their job down at BJC, Washington University or out to UMSL and the airport. Maybe we could have a coffee shop, a dry cleaners and a day care center. We want places like Pagedale to have better options than a questionable flea market or a vacant building. We want to work with the community to identify options for the few legitimate businesses that have operated at that Frison’s for years. They can and should continue to be part of the fabric in this community, attracting consumers and paying their share in taxes.
I remember the first time I met Ray. It was a warm day in late April and I was walking into our Save-A-Lot store in Pagedale. The thin, almost too gaunt looking guy walked up to me asking for a little money. He talked kind of fast, like me; but looked a bit worn down. His clothes were dirty and he told me he was hungry because he had not eaten in a few days. I regularly give what money I have to the pan handlers I come across. My thinking is that, if life has gotten so bad that they need to beg for money to survive, then I can spare a little bit. Moreover, I make sure I can look them in the eye and sincerely tell them good luck. Normally, my interactions with folks like this are in places away from my work; but, this time, Ray was at the Save-A-Lot across the street from our 24:1 office. I did not have any money; but, I told Ray to go get a few things to eat and I would pay for them.
Ray grabbed a couple of things, including a pre-cooked cheeseburger and a big drink. He seemed sincerely appreciative and was very thankful. Ray saw me talking with the young woman who was the cashier on duty and, as I found out later, he thought I was the President of Save-A-Lot. As we walked out, Ray told me a little bit of his story. He was homeless, had been in prison and just wanted a job. In fact, he asked me for a job on the spot and, while I wish I had something for him to do, I did not. I then gave him my business card and told him to call the number the next day and I would see what I could do. Two things: he was homeless begging for money (did I think he had a phone?) and he needed services that Beyond Housing did not provide. Both of these are, in hindsight, issues.
In the next two days, Ray does find a phone (I never asked where) and starts calling. My staff tells me about this fast-talking guy who said I told him to call. He does not (because he can’t) leave a call back number. Sometime in the next two weeks, my staff in our Pagedale office tell me this guy has been showing up asking for me waving a now tattered business card of mine around. The plot of this story thickens when the Reverend of the First Community Church of Pagedale, our landlord, tells me he was sorry that Ray was bothering my staff. “How did you know about Ray?”, I asked him. He said Ray had been coming around for a while and the church has been trying to help him. They gave him a few odd jobs and food. Ray was hustling to survive. Ray kept missing me at the Pagedale office due to my schedule of only being there half the week and my out of the office meetings. Ray’s frequent visits, asking for money, and his growing aggravation about missing me gave my staff some concern about these constant stops at the office. I said I would talk to Ray the next time he stops in.
A week or so later, I walk across the street from the Pagedale office and there is Ray. He sees me and starts smiling ear to ear. “There you are”, he exclaims. I shake his hand and say hello. I explain to Ray that I am sorry; but, I don’t have a job for him and I need him to stop coming by the office. I then tell him I know he is hustling to survive; but, he has to get more help that Beyond Housing can give him. I told him I want to get him to St. Patrick’s Center, one of the best homeless service providers in the region. He seems reluctant; but, I press him by saying, “Ray, you have to do more to help yourself than just hustling me and my staff.” He seems a bit deflated; but, concedes quietly. He asks if could I get him some food and I say yes; but, after that, I want to get him to St. Patrick’s. He gets some food (more this time than last) including a big family pack of hot dogs. I want to ask why; but, I don’t want to embarrass him.
As we walk back across the street, the Assistant Reverend is working in the parking lot and does not seem happy to see Ray. “I thought I told you to stop coming around here and bothering folks,” he tells Ray. Ray says something back to him that I could not hear. The Assistant Reverend apologizes to me for Ray pestering me and my staff. He says that Ray has someplace to stay even if it is not his house. They have tried to help Ray; but, they believe he is not willing to do the things he needs to do that will better his life. Ray wanted to push back on what the Reverend was saying and was getting a little upset. I asked the Reverend to let me talk to Ray alone for a minute. The Reverend said they were close to calling the cops on Ray. I told him thanks for the information and that I was trying to get Ray some more help.
Ray and I walked over to our office and I asked him to sit in the lobby area for a minute. I then called my friend, Karen Wallensak, who runs the Catholic Charities Housing Resource Center at St. Patrick’s. I asked Karen if I could get Ray to her can she get him through the basic intake process. She said she would. I asked one of my staff if he could drive Ray down there. I tell Ray what was in process and asked him to be willing to get the help we could not provide. I ask my staff to take him in and make sure he gets connected with Karen. I didn’t want him walking out as soon as my guy dropped him off.
As Ray leaves, I shake his hand and look him in the eye and wish him good luck. As I walk back to my office, I am disturbed by a system of caring that has a church and a not-for- profit housing organization so unable to help a homeless man named Ray. If we can’t help or are pushed to call the cops, how will our system ever get better at helping people like Ray? A few days later, Ray knocks on our door again.
What to do about Ray??
What I said at my father’s funeral over 8 years ago.
A Simple Man
He was a man of few words; but, when he spoke, we all listened.
He was a giving man who never asked for anything for himself.
He was a hard working man who took pride in everything he did.
He lived his life with dignity and character and, from those around him, he expected the same.
He found his soulmate and loved her every day. Being with her brought him his greatest joy.
He raised two sons, taught them to work hard and give back.
He watched them grow and beamed as they did well.
He became a grandfather and doted on these little ones who made him smile.
He became sick; but, he never complained.
He left us; but, he smiled as he went to assure us that it’s OK.
He left us a legacy of love. It’s our job to carry on.
He’ll be watching over us. . . .Dave Krehmeyer, A Simple Man.
Ever feel like you don’t have enough time to do the things you want or hope to do? Most of us in today’s hectic, technology riveted world can relate to this feeling of being at least slightly overwhelmed from time to time. Just a little more time for exercise, for family, for just simply doing nothing would be a good thing. I hope we can add one more thing to this list – exhibiting more compassion in our lives.
Compassion is defined as the sympathetic consciousness of others distress together with a desire to alleviate it. The important facet to the definition is the overt link of the feeling to action. Both elements are required for true compassion to be exhibited. Now, I clearly understand the challenges of our daily lives for kids, work, extended family, friends all dominate our waking moments and our emotional energy. In my own life, I am today trying to balance the relentless forward movement of my father-in-laws Alzheimer’s, my 23 year old’s frustration about his college degree not being worth much in today’s economy, my 16 year old son’s challenge of trying to determine what he wants to do for the rest of his life and how I might pay for his college, my 14 year old daughter just left for Florida with a friend and her family for spring break, my own stress of running a not-for- profit organization and my wife’s stress for all of the above.
I do remind myself frequently that, even with this list of stresses, that fill my day that I am lucky. I try to view each person I come into contact with as someone who has all the same kinds of challenges that I do. I try to show them that I recognize their humanity and that they have value. Further, I try not to become immune to the grim realities of the world in which we live. Everyday in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, there is a section on page 2 ironically called Law and Order. Each day, they report on violent crime from the day before and some court action on prior violent crimes. Just about everyday in the greater St. Louis metro area someone is shot and killed. Most are unknown to us. Most will be forgotten quickly from our consciousness. If we are to be more compassionate, we need to not let the loss of life at the hands of another be forgotten or, even worse, not care in the first place. The much harder charge is what we do to alleviate mindless violence. There is no easy answer; but, it is abundantly clear that reducing the level of poverty and increasing the quality of life in neighborhoods is a great step in the right direction.
If a horrific event like the killings of 16 innocent people in Afghanistan by a soldier or the terrible murders in Norway or anything local occurs, we should be moved to compassion, first and foremost, for the lost lives and not to policy implications for our country or our own community. We can get to the policy work; but, we should not lose sight of the humanity behind the event.
Transitions in life, no matter how normal or not they may be, are really difficult. Transition is defined as a movement, development or evolution from one form, state or style to another. One issue in my personal life and one in my professional life reminded me about how challenging transitions can be.
Right now, my middle child, Jackson, is beginning his transition from high school to college. He is finishing his junior year in high school and he is beginning all the many tasks to get ready for college. The ACT test is later this month. Several college visits have already occurred. He is beginning his college entrance essay to describe who he is and many other assorted tasks are taking place. Jackson is a topic for an entire blog itself so I will save you all the details and just say I am glad that Jackson has made it this far. He is just fine with his transition or his evolution to be a college student and a young man. My wife, however, is nowhere near being fine with this change around the corner. This transition will be hard. Every parent and child goes through this development process because it is normal and is supposed to happen. It is still hard. The emotions of parenting run deep in my house and, thanks to Jackson, that includes great unconditional love to great frustration for a teenage boy not pushing himself to realize his potential. Transitions are hard. This being said, we will get through it and he will be fine. Mom will eventually be fine as well. Our attention to the issues that need to be addressed and followed up on will be important in making this transition.
The issue of transition also came to mind recently when I was at a town hall meeting in the City of Northwoods. Northwoods is one of the cities in our 24:1 Initiative and has been a historically well-kept, middle-class community of single family homeowners. I was asked to come and talk about the housing development we were doing in the city. There were a number of speakers before me that covered a wide range of topics that were of interest to the 30-40 people in attendance. The underlying sentiment that was a thread through the conversations was that this community was in transition. Transitioning from a pre-dominantly homeowner community to one with a great deal of rental housing. Transitioning from a solidly middle-class community with established norms of how their community functions to a growing lower-income population that does not know or has not embraced the past way of living in Northwoods. No one said these things; but, that is what I heard in the comments and frustrations from the residents to the elected officials and staff at Northwoods.
The leaders of Northwoods have been trying to address the issues raised and nothing mentioned was a surprise to them. The challenge of this transition is that the city does not have the resources to quickly address these changes financially or from a municipal toolbox standpoint. What I mean by the municipal toolbox is that, if you never had to address a large number of rental units and some questionable behavior by a larger portion of your population, you do not have the tools to address them. Transitions are hard. Northwoods, like so many other communities who have faced this exact transition, have seen people leave the community and property values stagnate. These two factors, coupled with absentee landlords, make a response to this transition hard. It is my hope that Beyond Housing, through our 24:1 Initiative, can continue to work with Northwoods to develop a new plan, a new thinking about how they manage this transition. Like with my son Jackson, if there is a plan and the follow-up to make sure the plan gets completed, then good things can happen in Northwoods. Transitions are hard; but, we can work through them.