Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wake Up Early This Saturday Morning!

This Saturday morning, February 28th, we have a great opportunity to help bring Up There Down Here.

Larry Jones, founder and president of Feed the Children recently shared his concern over the sky rocketing unemployment in and around Elkhart county and wanted to do something about it. So, on Tuesday, March 10th 15 semi loads of food and personal care items will roll out of the Feed the Children warehouse in Elkhart to locations all over the community. Thousands of families who recently lost their jobs will receive a box of food and a box of personal care items.

Before that can happen nearly 12,000 boxes must be packed or shipped in from other Feed the Children distribution centers. But every semi load we are able to pack out in Elkhart saves fuel and transportation costs. Every semi load that leaves the docks from Elkhart means Feed the Children has the funds to purchase another 1/3 load of food. We want to vote for more food for our friends and families of Elkhart county!

So here's the request:

On Saturday, February 28th from 8:30 am til noon we will become a box packing machine at the FtC Elkhart warehouse and distribution center. Ask your friends, invite your neighbors, wake up your kids. Go directly to Feed the Children's warehouse, help pack out the boxes and help bring a ray of hope to thousands of families in Elkhart county that we call our friends.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

So close but it seems so very far away....

Most of you that know me I think for the most part my personality is pretty even tempered. However, I have an extremely short fuse when it comes to seeing injustice especially when it is toward someone else.

I've been trying to process this for the last week or so but today over lunch I heard the story again and it just lit me up!

Nearly two years ago I begin developing a friendship with a guy that lives in the Monroe Circle Community. He was from the streets. I was not. Most men feared him. Me, not so much. D wanted to change his destiny. I needed to open my mind. So, we started a journey and it was not without its challenges but overall D was making great progress. He went through the STARs program at the Center for the Homeless, worked a few different jobs but had landed a great one several months ago. He loved it. His employer thought D was doing an amazing job and kept giving him more and more responsibility. Great pay and full benefits.

Then it happened. D cam home and had a small disagreement with his girlfriend. Nothing physical or abusive just louder than normal conversation. The next door neighbor called the police. Several squad cars arrive. Talk to both D and his girlfriend. No signs of injury. No tears. No screaming. His girlfriend tells the police everything is really ok and apologized for raising her voice. Not good enough - someone is going to jail and D is the chosen one.

Now here is were it gets even more bazaar. D has no less than 6 phone numbers of guys, good friends that he can call. But they confiscated his phone and his girlfriend did not have our numbers and was too embarrassed to tell anyone what happened at the community center. For two weeks we called and called and called with no answer only a voicemail message. Then even the voicemail was turned off. It was like D had just disappeared.

Two weeks later D calls. He has been in county jail for the last two weeks waiting for his girlfriend to get paid so he can get bailed out. It turns out that she isn't even allowed to bail him out or even talk to him because she is listed as the victim on the police report.

So, today over lunch D is sharing with us how he is trying to get his job back but right now it does not look promising. We've came so very far to break the grip of generational poverty with D over the last two years to have it slip away so quickly. But it seems like a big step backward.

I really don't want to blame the police, D, his girlfreind or even the neighbor lady. But is seems to me that we have built systems and thought patterns based upon the group and not the individual. It is so much easier to prejudge an individual based upon what we think a group of people that have different traits than we do might do.

I can't imagine how D must feel. The closest thing I can come to is the day a group of us were working at Cabrini Green in Chicago. From the walkway enclosed with security fencing you could see, all most touch, Chicago's Magnificent Mile - an icon of the American dream. It was right there but it felt like it could have been a million miles away.

D, we are right there with you. We will pick you up and walk with you again and again. Because if you fail, we fail and that is just too difficult to even think about.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Front Page News that is Hopeful

As bread is broken, neighbors find unity

Free meal fills stomachs, lifts spirits each Tuesday.


Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND — "I heard they feed well," says 21-year-old Tony Elliott, among the first ones to line up in the bitter cold.

Several minutes later, Lorraine Bailey also walks up to the door of the Monroe Circle Community Center at Western Avenue and Taylor Street. She comes as much for the conversation as the food.

Denise Martin of Granger Community Church serves drinks to Tony Elliott and DiAnna Thompson at The Gathering, a weekly meal at the Monroe Circle Community Center in South Bend.

"Nice people you see on the street every day," she says.

And, she adds, there's the spiritual message that comes each time they dine.

At 54, she was laid off from her hotel housekeeping job in November and is waiting to be hired back in March or April. She goes to some food pantries but doesn't really go to other free community meals.

People sometimes wait outside an hour or more for these weekly Tuesday meals, known as The Gathering. Sometimes they are turned away because there's enough space inside for just 55 adults, plus some kids, says coordinator LeRoy King.

Doors typically open by 6:30 p.m. — make that 6:19 on this night. The crowd steps into a thick, warm aroma of gourmet coffee and hot cocoa. Volunteers from Granger Community Church greet them. Smiles. Handshakes. Hugs.

The diners take their seats at cozy little round tables draped with white cloths, maroon place mats and white and black balloons. Volunteers take orders, then deliver potato chips and dip with tall cups of soul-thawing cocoa or coffee.

"We are trying to create a place where they can have community with their neighbors," King says. "Our goal is not to treat them as second-class citizens. One thing we always tell them is that they matter and that they are loved by God."

The Gathering started in June. It's part of the Granger church's ministry here in a strip of old storefronts that the church renovated into a sleek, modern school, food pantry and other programs.

The meal, King says, targets next-door neighbors in the apartment complexes of the South Bend Housing Authority and the 46601 ZIP code area, but anyone is welcome.

"It's more like home," says David Johnson, 46, who lives in the Monroe Circle complex and often brings neighbors with him.

What he enjoys, he says, is "to see people eating here, to see them in a more relaxed atmosphere."

"It allows you to meet people from other walks of life," says Eileen Wade, 56. "When you think you have problems, you find someone whose problems are worse than yours."

But make no mistake, she says: That one meal makes a financial difference "when you're on a limited income and you only get a lousy $10 in food stamps (per month)."

Raymond Seiler, 64, tunes in to the spiritual presentation, a scaled-down version of the church's weekend services. Some of it is on the TV screens in the room, a Christian message with a rhythm-and-blues beat that moves the diners to sway. King also speaks, but so do other church members, like Mike Jackson, who had seen President Barack Obama's inauguration in Washington, D.C.

"You don't hear one person talking," says Seiler, a retiree who also picks up food boxes here each month. "You can hear a lot of people getting the message across about Jesus Christ. In church, you only hear one person, and everyone else has to shut up."

Meanwhile, children are in a room next door with more elbow room for their energetic bodies. They are coloring sheets of Noah's ark, sipping water and munching on chips. Ten to 20 kids show up weekly for a meal and a Christian activity.

The food then comes in both rooms. In the past there has been spaghetti, turkey, soups ... really, just a variety. This time it is a form of broken bread, that biblical symbol of communion: Subway sandwiches.

Staff writer Joseph Dits:
(574) 235-6158

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Well done, Friend!

I knew Millard Fuller for about 10 years. His story inspired me to take steps to help others. I truly believe without my involvement with Habitat for Humanity and spending time with Millard and his wife I may not have had the courage to even think about starting a project like Monroe Circle Community Center. He told me many times, you do what you can do and God will take care of the rest. He was a man of vision. A man with great focus. He listened to God and lived a great live full of adventure. Tonight, my prayer is that I can become more like Millard.

The passing of an inspiration

Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity and The Fuller Center for Housing, died early this morning after a brief illness. He was 74. Family and friends are mourning the tragic loss of a true servant leader and a genuine heart.

There will be a visitation tonight at First Presbyterian Church from 6-8 p.m. The family will be there to receive guests. The church is located in Americus, Ga., at 125 S. Jackson St.

Millard will be buried at Koinonia Farm on February 4 at 11 a.m. Koinonia is located at 1324 Hwy 49 S, Americus, Ga., 31719. The funeral is open to the public.

The family is planning a memorial service for later in the month. Please check back here for further details.

Linda Fuller, Millard’s wife of 49 years and the co-founder of Habitat and The Fuller Center, said that great strides have been made toward fulfilling Millard’s vision of eliminating poverty housing around the world, but that there is still tremendous work to be done. Millard would want us to carry on with faith and strength.

The couple was planning to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in August with a blitz build centered in Millard’s hometown, Lanett, Ala.

“We’ll probably go ahead with the blitz build. Millard would not want people to mourn his death,” Linda said. “He would be more interested in having people put on a tool belt and build a house for people in need.”

Former President Jimmy Carter issued a statement in which he called Fuller “one of the most extraordinary people I have ever known.

“He used his remarkable gifts as an entrepreneur for the benefit of millions of needy people around the world by providing them with decent housing,” Carter said in the statement. “As the founder of Habitat for Humanity and later the Fuller Center, he was an inspiration to me, other members of our family and an untold number of volunteers who worked side-by-side under his leadership.”

The family asks that donations be made to The Fuller Center in lieu of flowers, and to help us continue the great work that is Millard’s legacy.

For more on Millard’s life and work, visit MillardFuller.com, or read the Associated Press article published today.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Through the Eyes of an Eight Year Old

I grew up in a middle class family in the 60's. Dad worked. Mom stayed at home. We didn't have a lot of extras but we never went without. Each summer we would take a family vacation. One of my greatest memories as a very young boy was our ritual on Saturday night. First was a bath so we were ready for church the next morning. Then a trip with Dad to McDonald's on South Michigan Street in South Bend. I don't remember if they had inhouse dining because every time we would pull up in the drive thru and watch them peal potatoes for the french fries. We'd order a cheeseburger, fries and usually a chocolate shake and head home. I still remember how great that felt.

As we raised our kids and now as we have grandkids a trip to McDonald's is commonplace. Almost expected. Not out of greed but out of convenience.

Today, I had the chance to take two boys from the Monroe Circle neighborhood to McDonald's. Last week during the after-school program they brought in a certificate for a free sandwich as a reward for their good attendance. They talked about how they really wanted to go but didn't think it would happen. We made a plan. They got excited and asked over and over if it would really happen on Monday.

Here is their reality in 2009 from the eyes of an 8 year old living at Monroe Circle.

1. You arrive at MC3 fifteen minutes early because you can't believe the day has finally arrived.
2. Your parental release form has been folded, opened and refolded so many times the paper is starting to tear on the fold lines. You've stuffed it deep in your pocket because this is your golden ticket to a rare experience. Without it you can't go - you can't leave. The dream of going to McDonald's is so close but yet it seems so far away.
3. You get very quiet when we pull into the parking lot because you see three police cars parked outside the restaurant. You are afraid to ask but you think you know the answer, "Can we still go in?" You are relieved when you hear sure we can.
4. You have been given your final instructions on how to order your meal.
5. You shyly look at their feet when asked what they would like to eat. Quietly and politely you ask for a Big Mac, an order of small fries and coke. After prompting you agree to change the coke to a shake but still insist on the small fries.
5. You ask if it is okay to set in a booth next to the gas fireplace because it "feels good." You look up and see the three officers are sitting at the next table over and you are not sure it is still okay to sit here. You look at me for confirmation.
6. You share as you devour your meal that you can't remember when was the last time you came to McDonald's because it takes too long to walk here from Monroe Circle.
7. You try to be polite and answer questions about your hopes and dreams but you really can't even get past the next few months. You have learned to survive one day at a time. You've been to Mishawaka but that is as far from home that you have gotten.
8. You ask if you can go back to Monroe Circle Community Center because you want to finish your homework before you go home at 5 PM because you know Ms. Amy or one of the other volunteers are truly interested in helping you get it right.
9. You are pretty sure you will be able to come back to MC3 on Wednesday. Next Monday is not guaranteed. Hope is one day at a time.

My prayer is the $10.00 I spent on two Big Macs, two small fries and two shakes will have a small impact on how these two boys view their value, their worth, their potential. I know for sure it made my day.