Photo source: www.edb.utexas.edu
What if you wake up one morning and have to face the fact that you’re a single mom, have only $15 left, three kids to feed, a mother who’s moved in with you, and by the way, she’s starting to show signs of dementia (just the other day she left the stove on, last week she let the 4-year-old wander out of the house)?
Today is your only day off. You know you need help but don’t know what to do.
For one woman, this was a true reality. For me, it was only a project – but one that carried the impact that was intended. One that I won’t forget.
When I walked in to my Leadership Redding class this month I was asked to hand over my wallet, my cell phone, all my personal belongings.
Give up my cell phone? But that’s my lifeline to the world I live in. That’s how my husband and I connect during the day, how my kids reach me if needed, how my clients can have my attention 24/7. Hand it over? For the whole day?
This was already uncomfortable territory.
I was placed in a group and given a scenario: The one above. Other groups were battered moms with loads of kids, alcoholics/drug addicts trying to survive, moms who lost their children to the system; everyone poor and hanging on by a single thread. And all true-life stories: families that our facilitator had at one point encountered through her work.
Today was our day to learn about the Social Services offered here in Shasta County. And instead of listening to speakers all day, we were going to learn by living it. Go out, be this family and find what you need to help you. Hope you wore the comfortable shoes that were suggested (looking down at my shoes with a slight heel!) because you don’t have cars, and hope you had a good breakfast because we’re not catering lunch today.
Best of luck to you. Report back at 3pm.
Because we’d started at the YMCA we decided the easiest first place would be People of Progress. We set off on foot and when we arrived we found they are not open until 10 am. We then went to Shasta College CalWORKs and talked with Monte Murphy and he told us we should start down at Breslauer at the Department of Social Services. He gave us the fare to take Redding’s public transportation, RABA. On our way to RABA we saw the Local Interagency Network for Children and Family Services and stopped in there. We asked if they could help our family. Yes, they would evaluate our level of crises and give us information of where to go.
We got on RABA for our trip to Breslauer. A lady struck up a conversation with us about a cause she was fighting. Another passenger was explaining to the person next to me where he’d found a good meal.
At the welfare office we did not stand in the long, long line to speak to the receptionist, as we would have had we been the family. We were fortunate enough to slip around back and talk to a director there. She had worked there for 22 years. She said that most likely they couldn’t help our family. We would “fall through the cracks” of the system. We had a job, albeit a low paying job. Nothing they can do, we wouldn’t meet eligibility requirements.
We discussed the difficulties of working in such an environment. She told us they have about a 70 percent employee turnover rate. It’s not easy work and it can drain you.
She shared many fascinating stories of her time there and people she had encountered. People taking advantage of the system, deserving people being turned away from the system and success stories of people being kept on their feet by the system. Her strongest point to us being that “it is not the most needy and deserving that receive assistance, it is the eligible.”
Frustrated we had taken the bus all the way down there just to find out we weren’t “eligible” – we crossed the street to WIC (Women, Infants and Children) where they were very helpful. Our family had a 4-year-old and could receive help from them. They also gave us information about where else to get help and meals.
My group went on to spend half of our day’s money to take RABA back downtown. Once there, we visited the housing authority and found that we could get housing assistance for Grandma, and then to People of Progress, now open. We found we could get groceries from them four times a year when in desperate need.
Exhausted and frustrated – we never did find help for Grandma’s dementia issues – we returned to debrief with the rest of the class.
Great experiences. I heard names of places I never knew existed, but yet had probably driven by a kazillion times while living here in Redding. And I heard names of places I did know and our class found consistently helpful – Empire Recovery Center, Good News Rescue Mission, North Valley Catholic Services, and Living Hope, to name a few.
But I also heard the exhaustion, the frustration of a day of trying to find help and not knowing where to go and what to do. For us a project, for others this is a daily reality.
Collectively we found there are so many organizations here to help those in need. But it’s not so easy to know where to go and which ones can help with the specific needs of each family. Last year’s Leadership Redding class took that challenge on as a project, and you can now find a “map” to social services at many organizations. (And I just stumbled on this site that does a great job listing services in the area: http://www.christianlivingdirectory.net/page/1521137)
There were many “ah, ha” moments, a new perspective of how others live, a tug at some hearts in wanting to help. It was an eye-opener for sure, and a reminder to realize how truly lucky we are.
My cell phone was returned; I went home to my beautiful house, my kids, my husband, my emails and voice mails from clients, a great dinner and a comfortable bed. Back to my normal, my daily reality. But the memories of the day will stay with me forever.
The quote from the retreat comes to mind again, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” So what change will each of us be now?
Lara Wells Osborn is a Redding native. After traveling and working around the world she has returned to Redding with her husband and three children. She is a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Westside. She can be reached at 530-276-3026 or by email at email@example.com.