Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Surprising Take on Wealth Inequality

By CEO/Executive Director Laura Gray

In July I went to the Kansas conference on poverty. For the most part, the point of view was what you would expect – most of the presentations were about poverty from a social justice point of view. The pleasant surprise was at least one session that was realistic about winning an argument when it’s purely about social justice. To quote Nick Hanauer from “The Pitchforks are Coming…for Us Plutocrats” the July issue of Politico, “Republicans say growth. Democrats say fairness – and lose every time.”

Hanauer’s article and much of the conference was about wealth inequality in America.
There is a marvelous illustration of the changes in the distribution of wealth in a YouTube video at

What’s just as interesting to me is a talk given by Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute called “America’s Future in Focus: A Conservative Vision for Social Justice.” I’ve excerpted several sections below. I’m not doing it justice, because I left out so much. Hopefully, what I am sharing is the common ground of social justice.

“I want to talk about Two Americas. I want to tell you, first, the poor are being left behind.”…

“Now, I said that the poor in America are being left behind and that’s just a fact. If you look at the data, it’s actually one of the most striking things about the non-recovery in the bottom half of the economy. Economists like me like to tell you that in 2014, we’re going to see a slow but steady increase in GDP, about 2.5 percent growth. Now, that’s true as far as it goes.”

“The problem is there are actually going to be two growth rates in 2014. The top half of the American economy: 5 percent. It’s terrific, fast growth. … Now, the problem is that the bottom half is going to see 0 percent economic growth. If you look at the data on economic growth over the past seven years, you’ll find that the bottom half of the American economy has stayed stagnant or has lost purchasing power in inflation-adjusted terms every year for the past seven years. Imagine how exhausting this is for the bottom-half. We haven’t seen anything like that since the Great Depression.” …

“I do not begrudge the rich one dollar of their gains because this is America. But we’ve got to do something about people in the bottom half,”…

…”Listen to conservatives arguing about poverty. … You’ve heard it a million times, right? You’re poor, what do you hear? You hear, I care about money. I don’t care about poverty. I don’t care about you. I care about money. Right?”

“It’s time for conservative politicians and people of good faith to say, I’m going to fight for you and your family with conservative policies whether you vote for me or not, and actually mean it.”

…” I started doing a lot of reading about what actually helps poor people. And what did I find? I found that the free enterprise system has lifted more people out of poverty than any other system in history, Billions of people are not poor today because of your American free enterprise system that spread around the world after 1970. I want to fight for that. I want to do more of that. … Forget bringing down the top. Let’s lift up the bottom.”...

“So where are we? The first thing I told you is the poor are being left behind.” …

“The question is not if you’re mad enough to fight for change. The question is do you have enough love on your heart for everybody to fight for change. See, what leaders and patriots do is they fight for the weak, no matter how the weak vote. It doesn’t matter if they like the other guys. You’ve got to fight for them because that’s what leaders do. Do you have enough love written on your heart for everybody to get in the fight?”

“If you do, this country can win for the poor. This country can deliver on its promises. This country once again can be a beacon of hope for everybody, whether they’re coming here as immigrants or they’re not even here yet, but they’re Americans in their hearts. Or whether they’ve been here for a long time and they’ve been left behind. We are the generation that can make this occur. We can pass this on to people who are younger than us and they can be the heroes. They can be deputized to the heroic activity that is the patrimony left to us by the great founders of this nation.”

Monday, August 25, 2014

Volunteers Matter: Value of Consistency

By Facilities Supervisor Michael Kizzee

One of my favorite spiritual writers wrote that “consistency” is the virtue lacking most with modern Americans.  The volunteer Floyd Larson is definitely the exception.  Floyd has volunteered at Community LINC for around 15 years.  I say “around” on account he has been telling me for at least 3 years that he has volunteered for around 10 years.

Floyd started with a group of men from his church, who came every week to volunteer.  When I started at Community LINC, some of these men had passed away others had to stop coming on account of medical issues; only Floyd remained.  

Floyd still faithfully comes every Wed. at 9:00 a.m. sharp.  If Floyd is going to be late or out of town he calls to let me know, although I tell him it is unnecessary.  Floyd has been a constant in an ever changing organization and environment.  As our organization has flexed and grown, he has been asked to build walls only later to have been asked to tear them down again.  Never with complaint, never with resentment have I seen him.  Although he can’t say the same of me, I’m sure.

When we are working on construction projects many times I will point Floyd out to our families and tell them, “that man has consistently volunteered here for almost 15 years.”  When they see his age and hard work they are astonished.  This type of consistency is a model not only for our families but to all of us lacking such virtue.  Floyd helps me to keep going-on with this work when I feel overwhelmed and lost with the continual need.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Therapy Matters: Mental Health Matters

By Director of Mental Health Services Griselda Williams

As I read what Ms. Frenchie Pulluaim wrote about the many layers of pain, challenges and hurdles our families have endured and must try to move past to move into permanent housing, I thought about the mental health aspects that are connected to those “broken hearts”.  She wrote about “matters of the heart” being complicated and how they can lead to physical and medical issues. 

I see so often what Ms. Frenchie wrote about as it relates to mental health challenges. Those mental health challenges can work against the goals, hopes and dreams that our families have and the efforts those of us in the helping field extend to them. 

A current topic of discussion in mental health is depression, given the media focus on Robin Williams and other well-known people who struggle with this issue. While much of the media focus is on the famous we on the mental wellness team plan to focus on our families and the impact that depression has on them. 

We have planned upcoming program group topics on the subject as we often see that beginning this time of year through the end of the year depression increases greatly. 

As depression increases so does those who are so broken hearted often contemplate taking their own lives. Given all that our families have endured it is important to give them an opportunity to openly discuss the impact of depression as well as provide them resources for support and decrease the stigma related to seeking help for mental health challenges. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Jobs Matter: A Refresing Sight

By Employment Coach Connie Taylor 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in June that the total nonfarm employment for the Kansas City, Mo.-Kan., Metropolitan Statistical Area stood at 1,017,000 in May 2014, up 1,900 or 0.2 percent, from May 2013.  This is great news for the participants of our job readiness program at Community LINC. 

More than 50% of our families are unemployed upon arrival.

It was refreshing a few days ago to see one of our aftercare participants still employed 10 months after she secured a job while living at Community LINC.  She had limited opportunities due to her prior criminal record. She was terminated for her participation in a public disturbance on her last job and convicted of assault. 

Although, it was not a pretty picture, we had to encourage her to continue to press forward.  She located a company that needed her ability to speak Spanish and applied for the position. She explained her poor choices and expressed regret and was afforded another chance at employment. She has proven herself to be trustworthy again and is looking forward to promotion to management one day.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Intake Matters: Wake-up call

By Intake and Resident specialist Holly Gardner

Most of the time I see our families eager to job search, have a paycheck again and work with our budgeters.  These are things that can be measured as they reach their goals. Almost always in the screening process money management comes up and is a common thread we can all relate to.  But sometimes it is health and reconnecting with doctors and other health professionals that takes a front seat after a family moves in from shelter as it was with Ms J.

When she reached out to us she shared she had no one to talk to, share with, ask advice from.  She had a serious illness and had not been able to let it fully sink in how it was going to impact her or her daughter.

Since moving in she has been given referrals and has followed up with doctors, counselors and others who specialize with people who are transitioning in to a new, different and for most a scary reality especially if family ties are broken. Since moving in and working with staff we have seen Ms J have a painful and very personal wake-up call and have seen her take her routine and health more seriously and try to use her energy wisely. 

She may not obtain employment  and move out in a more traditional way but she will have a community of health professionals, case managers and the like supporting and encouraging her. She moved in with little to no family support but will move out with a new family, a growing network of people who will be there on her darker days and remind her she is not alone.

Yes, sometimes our families get more productive and shine in ways they didn’t think they could and sometimes the light is even brighter for those whose journey is harder to measure.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Children Matter: First Days of School

By Children’s Program Coordinator Josh Chittum

The first week of school is crucial for creating a positive classroom culture. This is when friendships form, behavior expectations are introduced, and students learn important classroom procedures. When this first week goes smoothly, the rest of the school year is likely to have a solid footing.

When I taught for three years in high poverty schools, it was inevitable that not all of my students would arrive on the first day. Some would arrive later in the week. Some wouldn’t arrive until after the second week.  I rarely knew why some of my students were late; I simply adjusted to their presence and made them feel as welcome as possible. But I often felt disappointed, not at the child, of course, but at the fact that they had already missed so much!

I wanted each and every student to be in class when I shared about my life and why I became a teacher. I wanted them to be in class when we laughed at the silly name games we played, or when we had so much fun learning how to cooperate and communicate with each other during our get to know you activities.

I am now in a position to more clearly see the barriers that prohibit children from arriving the first day of school. The result of those barriers still disappoints me, but seeing behind this side of the curtain grows my empathy.

Ultimately, however, my empathy doesn’t change the fact that too many students miss the beginning of school and in some parts of the country, economically disadvantaged students are more likely to be chronically absent through the year than their peers. (See Chart 4 in The Important of Being in School published by John Hopkins University.)

So beyond empathy, what do we do? It’s easy to point fingers, but I don’t think children expect adults to point fingers at each other. I believe children expect their basic needs to be met and expect an opportunity to develop the skills that will allow them to create the largest life they can create, rather than be constrained by external factors. Again, just like empathy, rhetoric doesn’t solve the problem, but it’s a problem I will continue to seek a solution for.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Housing Matters: What Children Carry in their Backpacks

By Housing Coordinator Tammy Mayhue

Today I watched three children, dressed for school, backpacks on their backs, waiting for their school bus, while their mother was facing arrest for injuring someone during an incident of domestic violence.

As I stood watching, it appeared as though the children were not at all disturbed by the presence of the police, nor of the ambulance worker bandaging the wounds, perhaps because this was all too familiar. One of them even stated “I want to go to school”.

How do situations like these affect our children? They can become aggressive, disobedient, depressed, have low self-esteem, fears and even worse become abusers themselves.

It saddens me when I think about the children who outwardly appear to be fine just being children, but on the inside they are rippled with fears and insecurities of the unknown.

Our children carry more than school supplies in their backpacks.