It’s surprising how much time I spend in parking lots. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise given how much I drive for my job, traveling to & fro Cave Junction, Grants Pass, Medford area, Brookings, Crescent City, etc. I can tell you the best lots for shade in the summer, relaxing spots to eat lunch and read a good book, or the most quiet (and safe) place for a short power nap; I could probably point out which lot along the Rogue River is used for drug exchanges (I don’t park there anymore).
People do interesting things in parking lots; perhaps they don’t realize those of us sitting in our cars tend to look up sometimes. I like observing people wherever I roam. I’ve been accused of stalking before, but it’s not like I follow the same people, right? I’m just curious.
All that being said, I witnessed a few things this past week that have been haunting me, so I knew I had to share to get them out of my head, so to speak. On Tuesday, I was parked next to a small motel in Grants Pass and noticed a family headed toward their room, or at least I assumed they were a family. Five people, including two young men, one young woman and two small kids who looked about four or five years old. The most striking thing about them was that the two guys were dressed in military/camo outfits, with huge green backpacks. The young woman also had a huge backpack and was trying to herd the kids into the room. You could tell they had been walking a long time and their faces clearly showed relief to be opening a hotel room door. We’ve all seen these families, however they may define family, who are weary travelers, with no place to call their own.
Thursday I had a steady stream of meetings and events in Medford; starting with our United Way Board meeting/Campaign lunch, ending much later after a dinner event. So, in between a couple meetings, I parked in one of my favorite spots by Barnes & Noble to check messages, etc. I parked in a shady spot, next to a little green pickup on one side, another commuter on her phone on the other side. I noticed a young man on his phone by the pickup, and didn’t give it a moment of thought as I went into Starbucks for a drink. When I got back to my car, he wasn’t there anymore, but this time I actually looked at his truck. And noticed the car parked very closely next to his looked like someone was living in it. There were towels propped up in the windows to create some privacy, and THEN I saw the bags of clothes, pillows, and a cooler in the front seats. His pickup bed also had bags I assumed were their personal belongings and an old microwave for cooking. I waited as long as I could before my next meeting to see if he, or anyone else, were coming back to the vehicles. At the very least I was going to offer them the gorgeous plate of cookies I had won at the UW luncheon.
Ironically, the dinner event I attended was the 30 year anniversary of the Medford Habitat for Humanity. While listening to the guest speaker share her story of poverty and homelessness, all I kept thinking about were those young people in the Barnes & Noble parking lot. Did they have kids, were they ‘working homeless’, had they been evicted…like I said, I’m pretty curious. It bugged me so much, I went back there after the dinner and was hoping they would be there and I could buy them dinner. They weren’t. It upset me, a lot. The minute I saw my husband Scott, I burst into tears and told him about the two cars.
I know we all see people in these same scenarios all the time, I certainly do. But on my drive home, I reflected on the United Way Campaign Kickoff we (US Bank) had at our Medford Main branch. I presented the ‘Cross the Line’ exercise so many of us have experienced in other like meetings. The last statement was to ‘cross the line’ if you’ve ever been homeless. I was the only one in our group that crossed the line.
A long, long time ago, I lived on a cattle ranch with my then husband and our infant daughter, Savannah. When she was 7 months old, he lost his job, and with it, we lost our privilege of living there. Even though we had family members who lived near us, staying with them just wasn’t an option for us at that time. But luckily, a couple he was studying with offered us an apartment on the second floor of their home, in exchange for some rent and some work around their property. In today’s world, it would be considered more of a ‘couch surfing’ arrangement. About two months into the arrangement, we went away for the weekend, and when we climbed the stairs to what was supposed to be OUR living space, that family was sitting on our couch, eating our food and watching our TV…and didn’t get up to leave until we asked them to. It didn’t seem to bother my then husband, but I was done. So, I swallowed my pride, asked my cousin for help; she didn’t hesitate to give me money for a small rental house and came the very next day to help Savannah and I move out.
Not a terrible story by any means, but what if my cousin hadn’t been able to help me? I think it’s important to add here that the month prior to us having to leave the ranch, Savannah had been in the hospital for 10 days with viral meningitis; we came very close to losing her. But all the time my husband took away from work (unpaid), added to a strained working relationship, plus outstanding medical bills, put us on that slippery slope to homelessness. We were lucky; altogether my experience was no more than three months before things changed for the better. But I’ve never forgotten how it felt to not know where we would end up, and I am so grateful for the life my family has now because of it.
When I go back to Medford next week, I’m going to check on those two cars next to each other in my favorite parking lot, and if the cars’ owners are present, I hope they don’t mind if I say Hi and ask them if I can buy them dinner.
Deelia Warner, US Bank
Welcome to a guest blog from our lead office volunteer, Nancy Brophy. Nancy has been with United Way for a long time. She’s been a star volunteer in our two days a week for almost 8 years! Here’s her Live United story. Dee Anne
Hi! First off let me give you a little background about how I became involved with United Way. I was in long term treatment at Addictions Recovery Center, living at the women’s house and the ARC hosted and event called “Walk with Me.” That was a mentor program of WiLL, Women in Living Leadership, a United Way program.
It was a very nice sit down dinner and Diane Matthews, who at that time was the Assistant Director of United Way, sat at my table.
I don’t think I had six months clean at the time and still in somewhat of a fog, found it pretty unbelievable that successful, strong women would want to get to know me or give a hoot and care about me. I definitely hadn’t learned to trust the process yet.
Diane decided to become my mentor and we started hanging out. She’d take me to coffee or just come by to visit. She took me to her job and introduced me to her co-workers.
This was in 2009 when they were located on East Main Street. She had me and (my X at the time) help with direct mail. The X thing didn’t work out but the mentorship, I’m happy to say, did.
Then one day she picked me up to hang out with her and we went to a Head Start conference at the old Red Lion and she was introducing me to people and when asked me to share my story. Seriously? There were over 300 people there and I did it. That may have been my break through moment.
I became like an open book after that. It seemed like you normal people liked me. That was a fear of mine in treatment. What if I did all the hard work involved in getting clean and changing my life, and no one liked me or I didn’t like myself.
United Way moved to Spring Street and I did lots of direct mail, brought in people to help me and the next thing I know Dee Anne asks me if I’d be the Free Bus Pass Lady. It involved giving eligible people (I knew some of them from recovery) a ten ride pass on RVTD. I did that for over a year. Needless to say by then I’d become a familiar face around United Way.
And somewhere in there I have actually been a guest speaker at the October WiLL Event. I’d become a poster child or a success story of what can happen when someone takes a chance, steps out of the norm and chooses to become a friend to someone like me.
Now I volunteer 2 days a week – more during campaign. I post new events on the United Way of Jackson County’s website calendar and mostly do whatever they need me to do. I bring my companion Chow dog, King, with me, we feel safe and wanted there.
A few years ago I became a mentor to a gal that I had lived with at the women’s house. Stephanie had a history of relapse that we didn’t pay much attention to. I liked her and decided I was going to help her. She was very good at doing the hard work, getting everything back. Like her little boy, going to court and groups. She got a job, worked hard, got her own place and a car. It seems like I gave her a thousand rides and she really was my friend. We laughed a lot, she was a very funny person.
What I didn’t realize was she had an addiction to men. It became obvious to her oldest daughter and she wasn’t doing what she needed to do. The last time I saw Steph was the day her daughter and I confronted her and we made arrangements for her little guy to go live with his big sister because once again his Mom had chosen drugs, alcohol and men over him or them.
A few weeks ago I was tagged on a face book post that Stephanie was critical in the hospital and they were trying to find her daughter. I called Lauren and she had already been contacted and had been to the hospital. Her Mom had collapsed from a blood clot in her lung and too many other things to mention. She was on life support and she didn’t make it.
These kinds of things just make most people want to give up. Not you and me I guess. Here we are trying to help, not giving up, trying to raise money and awareness, giving to agencies who are better qualified to help them than me.
There are obstacles along the way of life, in recovery they say life happens. This year on January 1, New Year’s morning, I went out to my van to go to church and the front wheels and tires had been stolen off my van. It was on the ground! Who laughs at a picture like that on facebook?? I’ll leave you guessing.
It’s been a very challenging year for me to say the least. With health issues, lots of invasive medical tests, a trip to OHSU in Portland and the best news, I’m kicking cancer’s butt!
I love my dear friends or family at United Way. I really don’t know where I’d be without you.
Without all of you! Without all of you doing this work in our community where would we be? I applaud all of you for caring and accepting the challenge. It makes all the difference.
My Live United moment has been a journey, not a mere moment. I intend to stay on the journey. Because that is how I continue to LIVE UNITED. Nancy Brophy
I’m proud how we come together as a nation in times of crisis, but I realized that I actually see that spirit here day in and day in this Cabinet. I listen to Ed Sheeran a lot one song that I particularly like has a line that I thought had said “Human beings are destined to radiate or drain”; it made me think you all were the radiators. The real line is “Human beings are destined to radiate or dream.” I had to change my thinking a bit, but it actually makes even more sense. I think we dream of what we want, put it into action and radiate it out. You all Live United all the time, and this is how I see you doing that.
- Brande – through her faithful role behind the scenes in many years as Campaign Leader
- Rebecca – through her passion in mentoring youth
- Nick and Tim – through the countless boards you have served on through the years
- Cassie – through her consistent donations to Teresa McCormick Center of children’s items and dedicated work on the Medford Food Project
- Jolie and Frank – through the tears that come when you are moved by this work or the hardships of others
- Chris – through your smile, grit and determination in conquering the things that life has thrown at you
- Trish- through your enthusiasm and passion in making sure your special clienteles’ needs are met
- Lisa – through being “that volunteer” that always shows up whatever the task
- Erin – through her continually watching for the family she glimpsed one day that needs help
- Marsha – through her willfulness in getting back to the campaign that she so believes in
- Deelia – through insisting that the Big Idea include Cave Junction
- Sharilyn – through her cheerful persistence when tackling hard accounts
- Troy – through your service to country, and your fierce participation in your Rotary
- Dee Anne – through all the crazy ideas that you have implemented that actually work, and the Piped Piper that you are in bringing all of us, and countless members of the community, along in the work that you dream.
I heard of a new meme this morning: JOMO – joy of missing out versus FOMO, the fear of missing out, and it hit me that joy comes to people in many different forms.
To me, Living United is living with joy, or JOLU – Joy of Living United. How’s that for a fancy new meme for this campaign? #JOLU
Becky Snyder, Executive Director, Community Volunteer Network
Today I attended a memorial service. It was among the most remarkable I’ve attended. It honored a very specific person, well two people really. Yet I felt the presence of all my own losses in life and many others I’ve witnessed and learned of on this journey we call life.
The service was a memorial for Wendy’s mother, Melinda, who died 45 years ago in a car wreck that took the lives of others but not Wendy. Wendy was the sole survivor. Wendy chose at this point in her life to honor the loss of her mother through a memorial service and her own path in moving forward. What courage in action.
Earlier this week at our staff meeting, the check-in question also honored the loss of a beloved niece, Emmy, who left us a year ago. Emmy was the niece of one of our staff people. Emmy would have been only entering 4th grade this year and yet didn’t. Emmy was super brave during her struggle with cancer. The check-in question was about when were you brave. The United Way staff all gave beautiful answers and there were tears and laughter. It was brave. On my turn, I shared honestly that I have always wanted to be brave. I have witnessed bravery many times and I always feel lacking. I hope when it’s my turn, it’s somewhere inside me. I really do.
I had a sidebar conversation today that led me down a path I wasn’t expecting at all. It was about a problem in our community and again about bravery. When do we stand up, give up, or give in. And when does giving in look very different from giving up. And when is it time to stand up. I have to work this through longer before I know what step is mine to take. We’ll all learn together on this one.
Back to today. As I shared at the beginning, it was personal. My mother died in car wreck when I was 2 1/2. I was only a bit younger than Wendy. I am lucky to have 3 older sisters and many aunts and uncles and grandparents who jumped in immediately to surround me with love and have always been there for me along with a younger sister and new mom who came along later to help me become who I am. Today though, I went for Wendy as much as for me.
Wade in the Water
Well, I’m doing it. I’ve been asked repeatedly since the forecast started calling for Hurricane Harvey to arrive, “Who should I give to?” It’s like election time when people ask me who should I vote for. My goodness I think give and vote. Both matter. Give. Vote. We have these negative stories overwhelming us so we discourage people from doing both. Stop it. That’s where I am this morning. We don’t need more excuses not to give. Or vote.
So here’s the deal. Do your homework. Do what you care about. This is a disaster. It will go on not for hours or days. Not for weeks or months. It will go on for years. People’s lives and livelihoods were destroyed. Did you know they’ll still owe those car payments? They’ll still owe those mortgages. Unless they had federal flood insurance and they haven’t had three claims already. That’s another matter and we’re not talking about that right now. We’re talking about charity.
So remember if you care about babies and you want to give to diaper banks, think about the fact that the diaper bank place was likely destroyed too and if you only want to provide diapers that’s hard if you’re funding the diaper place that was destroyed. Fund a diaper place nearby that’s working to get diapers there. If you love animals and you want to give to a sanctuary or a humane society or a shelter, know they too have to rebuild as well as care for animals and their staff and and and…
There’s so much to do. It can be overwhelming. But your choice is to give. It’s amazing if you google fundraisers for Hurricane Harvey, you can find numerous stars doing their own fundraising including country music stars, movie stars, pop culture stars and athletes and it doesn’t even say where it goes and the totals are in the millions. There are GoFundMe’s to help individuals who have been impacted without directed stories and GoFundMe is very careful about making sure the stories are true. There’s a guy in California who was impacted by Hurricane Katrina who has started a GoFundMe and it’s in the thousands and is going to help “those” impacted by Harvey. Accountability matters. I’m not saying any of these are or aren’t legitimate. We worry about long term sustainability of organizational infrastructure and grassroots organizing and wonder who’s better at what. Recovery works best when it is local. And local is local. But guess what, we’re local. We’re United Way of Jackson County, locally incorporated, and locally governed. It’s true for groups with names like YMCA, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and Humane Society too. Know what their relationship is to the larger national or international group. Ours is we’re a member. We pay 1% in dues for the brand, for federal lobbying, for philanthropic research and to be part of people do great things all over the world. Check out United Way of Mumbai sometime.
So what’s the bottom line? The bottom line for me is I don’t need an excuse not to do a good thing ever. I don’t need a reason either. It’s okay to share kindness. It’s okay to show up for others in the world, in our country, in our state and in our own communities. Wade in the water, in the smoke (for Southern Oregon) and even our folks who need help year round. Show up. Vote. Give.
Saturday, I drove to Cave Junction to talk with a leadership group from Rogue Credit Union and some youth they were coaching during the day. They were having fun too. I was asked to talk about what inspired me or made me strong. I went with what made me feel strong. They were an inspiring group. They gave their Saturday to leadership and what a worthy pursuit.
I thought a lot about broken roads on the drive out there. I’m not sure why but I did and I wondered whose life hasn’t traveled a broken road. Mine has. Hasn’t yours? I haven’t really met anyone who’s life hasn’t had broken roads. I thought about people who have lost people on roads. I have. And I thought about people who’ve just been lost on roads, walking with all their belongings. I realized I haven’t met anyone who traveled a somewhat straight line from here to there. Thank goodness. I’m pretty sure that’s what life detours are about – saving us from going from here to there in a straight line. Think of the things and people we’d miss.
As I was driving, an oncoming car was similar to that of an old love. I wouldn’t trade the hurt for not having had the experience. I wouldn’t trade the loss of places I’ve lived for new places I’ve moved to. I wouldn’t trade the loss of prior jobs for not having new ones. I’d never have moved here or had this remarkable job or done this amazing work with our community. I’m one of the lucky ones.
Some people aren’t so lucky with broken roads. Some don’t come with built in bridges or resilience. Some don’t come with those moments that unite them to the next place or people or jobs or loved ones. It is part of our work and as we move into our campaign that begins in earnest this week, I hope you Live United with us. Build bridges. Build connections. Be part of the solution. Be part of connecting someone who needs help with someone who can. It’s what we do. It’s the United Way.
It’s been a hard week here and on the other side of our country. I’m not sure I was going to blog but I sat glued to the television yesterday because it was too smoky to do the Medford Food Project for me yesterday due to my asthma. That was a bad alternate choice. It was devastating to watch what was happening in Charlottesville. Sometimes, we can sit in large towns, small towns, our own little communities and think that would never happen here. Well, you know what. It can. And it doesn’t matter. It happens in our country. It is a time for leadership in all shapes, all sizes, all grades, all workplaces, all faith communities, all community gatherings, and all grocery stores. You get it. It’s okay to say hate won’t happen here. And in fact, it’s time. I noticed many people quoted John F. Kennedy, who was actually quoting Dante, when he said, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those, who in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” I don’t care who you quote. It’s time to speak to truth to power in our community, in your community, in your social network. Hate can’t happen here because we, yes WE, won’t have it. Please pick your favorite hashtag, quote, whatever, however it is you share and share it. Share on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, at your dinner table, with the kids who live in your street, with the older folks who live on your street. Talk to each other. We can do better. Let’s do it.
I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s one of those days. I have the kind of job where I can get mine handed to me regularly. It just sneaks in and sometimes is gentle and pulls at my heart. It reminds me to be careful. It sneaks up sometimes and it’s a little like a perspective whack with Styrofoam or something that squeaks loudly and says “Hello, are you paying attention here?” Sometimes, it’s hideously loud and, well, I don’t need alliteration for it, I hope.
Last night in my community news broke of the death of a homeless man. This man suffered from profound mental illness. Many people knew that. He wasn’t very welcome many places. I volunteered one summer at the Ashland Emergency Food Bank and was so surprised when he came in one of the mornings and the volunteer welcomed him and offered him anything. There wasn’t much he’d eat or could travel with. He had a small can opener and he took only two cans of food. They were his choices and off he went. I even remarked that day it was one of the few places John was welcome. It stuck with me.
Seven years ago, there was a terrible fire in our community and 11 houses were burned. The fire moved fast and jumped the freeway. Lives were forever changed. John was tried and found not guilty. There were lots of theories for why. That’s not what my blog is about. There were lots of stories written and there will be more now.
Last night though I received texts from a few folks saying that news broke John had died. Some people asked if I would attend a public gathering remembering him. Some sent links to articles. Some just wanted me to know. I read the stories and before reading the comments, I felt that gentle, sneaking up feeling. I read a comment or two and I felt the Styrofoam coming in for my head. My judgment came in on both sides. I’m just being honest here. I wondered who would be relieved John was gone and thankful that peace may find him now. Some were. I hope peace for him now. His life wasn’t easy for sure. And I wondered about those making those other comments on social media, like the one I read that read, “see ya.”
I know it’s human to have all these feelings and more. And I know we do this work together. That’s why we’re called UNITED…Way. We are united in this work. We don’t do it alone, not any of it. Thank you. And there’s always a Way. I’m grateful. Mental health remains a very tough issue in our communities. Just last week, Oregon achieved yet another worst in the country score on mental health. That race to bottom thing, we’ve got to stop winning. Let’s do this.
I’ve been thinking about all the rambling I’ve done so far this year and I keep landing at this children’s song, “There’s a Hole in the Bucket.” Be glad I haven’t been thinking about small worlds. Enough said. Anyway, the lyrics following my rambling this week. So you can sing about my meanderings for far too long! Enjoy.
Poor Liza and Poor Henry with the hole in their bucket. And still we expect them to be successful and end with the ever popular answer after 10 problems, we fall back on use your head. I think we might do this in my field of work too. I remember being on my learning journey for our Breaking the Cycle of Poverty project years ago and seeing a list of 12 things, the single mother of twins had to do that day, including AA, NA, Al-Anon, parenting and more, ending with get a job. How in the world was that going to happen? Use her head. I don’t think so. I think she used her head to get through her day with twins, attend meetings and ultimately she got a job that gave her promotions. There were still lots of holes in her bucket.
I think about what would happen to me if my house burned down. (Please don’t.) What would I do? I’d have plenty of places to go. There’d be a giant hole in my bucket though.
My fascination in life has always been what do you know, who taught you and when did you learn. I was talking about success last night with an amazing college student I know. She was relating a story that success meant money and a job to someone she admires. I thought success meant happy. She talked about needing an adulting class. I immediately thought there’d be holes in the bucket. Because someone who was taught by someone at some point would be sharing what they know. And that teacher may think success means happy or secure or wealthy or ok. And then what. I leave you with this song to sing and thoughts about where do you see holes in our bucket.
United Way is about ready to do our once every two years applications review, site visits, panel training and decision-making. If you’re interested, email me at email@example.com. We’d love to have you, even if you sing this song…
There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.
Then mend it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then mend it, dear Henry, dear Henry, mend it.
With what shall I mend it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I mend it, dear Liza, with what?
With a straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
With a straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, with a straw.
The straw is too long, dear Liza, dear Liza,
The straw is too long, dear Liza, too long,
Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, cut it.
With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, with what?
With a knife, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
With a knife, dear Henry, dear Henry, with an knife.
The knife is too dull, dear Liza, dear Liza,
The knife is too dull, dear Liza, too dull.
Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry
Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, sharpen it.
On what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
On what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, on what?
On a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
On a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, a stone.
The stone is too dry, dear Liza, dear Liza,
The stone is too dry, dear Liza, too dry.
Well wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Well wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, wet it.
With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, with what?
Try water, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Try water, dear Henry, dear Henry, water.
In what shall I fetch it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
In what shall I fetch it, dear Liza, in what?
In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, a bucket.
There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole.
Use your head, then! dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Use your head, then! dear Henry, dear Henry, use your head!
I can’t stop thinking about losing sight. This week, my mom was diagnosed with macular degeneration. She loves to read. She never has attached to technology so I think of ways to share her love of reading with the loss over time of her sight. Maybe she’ll like audio books but I really don’t know. If you have advice, throw it my way. I’m open to all ideas.
And as usual when my mind wanders, it comes to our work. And I think how easy it is to “lose sight” of or not know or forget or disagree about what the point of our work is. I’ve gotten very refined about my work this year and it’s only mid-February. I know it’s to not contribute to further wreckage in people’s lives. Today I heard a sermon that for me that was about my work. It was naming that sometimes when we help people we use a language of the courts or criminal justice, sometimes we use a language of medicine and sometimes people of faith use a religious language for the wreckage in people’s lives. For me, I’d like less to talk about what the wreckage is and more about what is our job as community. What do we need to do to be of service? To actually help? And what language do we use to help. Does it matter? It might because not naming the help might create more wreckage.
I remember years ago participating in a women’s group. We were doing a storytelling exercise about our own lives and one of participants shared that her father was blind. She shared stories of growing up with someone who couldn’t see. All I got from her story and what I still remember today was wow the vision he gave her led her to a life of such purpose. Still today, she does important work in Southern Oregon to really help people.
So this is my own ask for you to help me not lose sight of our work. With me? Sure hope so because we need you. Here’s to vision, with or without sight.