Thursday, June 30, 2011

homelessness shouldn't be hopelessness

I'm saddened by the number of homeless people I've seen here in D.C. and I wish I understood more about homelessness. 

I try to talk to the people who, I assume, are homeless that ask for money and just kind of see where they're coming from and today I had a really sad conversation with a man. I'm trying to understand that there is a good chance that he had some kind of mental illness and that is why he holds the opinions that he shared, but it's just really sad and upsetting to not know how to help. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, "around 20-25% of single adult homeless people suffer from some form of severe and persistent mental illness" which is a really high number, especially since it is probably (I'm just guessing) really difficult for them to get treatment or understand that they are in need of treatment.

I've been doing some Googleing since I had the sad encounter with the man earlier and these are some interesting facts I have found:


  • nearly 1 in 5 DC residents live in poverty
  • 1 in 3 children in DC live in poverty- much higher than the national average
  • 1 in 5 workers in DC has a job that won't lift a family of four out of poverty

A study done in the UK yielded this conclusion: "Our homeless sample displayed relatively low IQ with high levels of neurobehavioural impairment. Our evidence suggests that these neuropsychological factors may, in part, constitute a long-term consequence of childhood trauma."

which, in all of my vast 20 year old scientific wisdom, take to mean that many homeless people are just sad kids that never really experienced much love. I wish there was this great surplus of volunteer mental health professionals that could just wander the streets and counsel all these people who probably have so much hurt in their lives.

Back to the story about the man I met earlier. It was a frustrating conversation. He was playing banjo when my friend and I approched but once we engaged him in conversation he quit playing the sweet song and started spouting out bitterness and angry things. Granted, were I homeless I would most likely be bitter and angry also, but he just really was hurting and mad; the fact that Hannah and I were nice girls who stopped to see how he was doing and potentially try to help him out didn't seem to cross his mind as an opportunity to take advantage of. 

Being an aspiring social worker ("aspiring" makes the career sound glamorous or something) I asked the man I met near the metro station earlier whether he had considered talking with a social worker. He proceeded to tell me that social work is "a load of bull***t" and that "social workers don't do nothing." I told him I was studying social work and we'd actually learned about different ways the social work profession can help the homeless but he cut me off and basically told me that I didn't know what I was talking about. I understand that he may feel that way and may be justified in that opinion because it is very likely that he had a negative experience with a "bad" social worker, I don't know the circumstances, but it was frustrating to hear his complaints.

He was upset that he couldn't get a job because he is homeless, but he doesn't want to go to a shelter because he doesn't like being around all those people.
He can't get an apartment because he doesn't have a job, but he doesn't want to stay in a homeless shelter because it has as many rules as prison and he hates the ministries that give him meals and wash his clothes for him because that isn't stable enough for him.
He doesn't want the help of a social worker or any sort of federal assistance program because he had 1 bad experience with that, but he has no means to even start getting on his feet.
He doesn't want any help from anyone and claims "he is doing just fine on his own," but he was venting about how unfair life was that the government isn't taking care of him.
He wouldn't admit he needed help, but when he hinted at it he blamed the situation on not getting enough assistance.
It was just really sad and I can see why he would be so angry, but I couldn't think of anything to say to him or any sort of words that would inspire him to keep trying. He was using really foul language with us and admitted to "being in a violent mood" when a government worker didn't meet his needs regarding a federal assistance program, so we left as soon as he was done venting and we realized that it really didn't matter what we had to say because his pride had already made an appearance and he would be unable to talk with us at a civil level.

The only word I can think of is sad which is pathetic word choice, but it broke my heart to have to leave him. He, regardless of his reasoning or experiences that may have led him to this unhappy mood, was really mean to us and I have to wonder how many people actually stop and talk to him and how long it takes people who aren't patient and willing to listen to walk away. THEN the sympathetic and compassionate voice in my head reminds me of the statistics on homelessness and poverty/mental illness and I feel bad for being so judgmental about his attitude. 

I wish there was something I could do besides give them money, which I don't do. I offered 2 homeless folks food yesterday and they both were really picky when I said granola bar and cashews and they said "no" and then looked to the next person to give them money.

I'm trying to help people and I'm trying to have faith in people and I'm trying to love and serve, but it's hard when people don't want to receive the assistance and help, no matter how tiny it is. Sigh!

"Give something, however small, to the one in need. For it is not small to one who has nothing. Neither is it small to God, if we have given what we could." -St. Gregory Nazianzen

fueled by love... and by caffeine

Getting home at like 9:00 p.m.
Reading, phone calling, showering
Getting on the metro at 8:00 a.m.

...needing caffeine like never before!
Trying not to become dependent.
I thought this tiny Dunkin Donuts coffee was too cute.

Monday, June 27, 2011

long walks, little joys

"How can there be too many children?
That is like saying there are too many flowers."
-Blessed Mother Teresa

my desk at the moment

first Metro farecard of the summer

serendipity. found this pillow at Target and
today I passed TWO hello cupcake! shops.

saw this on a parked car on the long
walk to get dinner with Stephanie

D.C. is pretty.

sad tears, happy tears

Today I got myself together a little bit from yesterday's travels and I am finally feeling settled into this place! The weather today was overcast which was AWESOME after the past few months of Texas heat.

I met my friend Stephanie for dinner this evening, but on my way to meet her I made a quick stop at a church I have grown to love during visits to DC in the past. The last time I was there was in January when I was in town for the March for Life. I met a homeless man, Chris, on the steps of the cathedral and had a really great conversation with him over some oatmeal. I wrote a lot about the story here after it happened if you are interested in the whole story. I wrote Chris a letter once, through a Priest at the church, and sent him a Rosary which was "much appreciated" by Chris according to email correspondence with the Priest. I had been hoping I might get to see Chris this summer but I wondered whether his declining health had claimed his life. I'd prayed for Chris ever since and hoped to see him again just to check in on him.

When I got to the church there was no sign of him. I went inside and searched for a Priest or administrator or anyone that may know anything but I was greeted with an unwillingness to help and treated as an annoyance by the 3 men I found in the Sacristy preparing for Mass. I was really hurt by that so I started crying (if this was Twitter I would add #typical #pathetic #cryinginpublic #lame). I walked out of the church really upset, both by Chris' absence and what that might mean and by the callousness of these "holy men." Some younger men were sitting where Chris once sat and they called out a hello to me and I responded (#ireallyneedtoquittalkingtostrangers #nolectureneededmom) and started crying even more. I then asked if they knew a man named Chris to which one man replied, "Oh yeah, honey, Chris with the cain? Why? You know him?" and I told him that I'd met him and had been worried about him... of course talking about it made me cry harder #beingemotionalsucks. The man, who later introduced himself as Wendall, then said "Don't cry with your pretty angel eyes! Chris is fine! He got himself a kidney or a liver, I can't remember which one of 'em it was!" and I started WEEPING on the street with 3 men who had "hit some hard times a while back" according to Wendall's very brief autobiography. He hugged me and told me that "Chris doin' alright" and that he'd be around the church some point in the week.

A few minutes earlier I was crying because of the lack of Christlike representation inside the church and NOW I was sobbing as Wendall said "the Lord sent him what he needed!" It was such a special moment!!! I said bye to Wendall and walked away still crying but SMILING!!!

I realize that I may be somewhat naive to assume authenticity of Chris' initial story and of Wendall's update on Chris, but I don't care. I really feel that I saw into Chris' heart when I met him and I really believe that Wendall knew what he was talking about.

I hope to bump into Chris outside the church at some point this summer and see what the rest of his story is like.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

FL to DC

Wassup, Jacksonville?!
It has been a busy summer so far!

On Wednesday, I arrived in Jacksonville, FL to attend the 2011 National Right to Life Convention and it was such a wonderful experience. The Convention kicked off my time as a student in the National Right to Life Academy along with 10 other girls from all over the place and it was just the perfect way to start an amazing, intense summer.

I'm going to highlight a few of the blessings of the experience.

hey girl hey!
1. My dear friend, prayer partner, fellow Bobcat, and Texas Right to Lifer Carol  was at the Convention
Carol is such a dear friend of mine and I'm SO proud of all the work she has done with Texas Right to Life in the past year- she is kind of a rockstar. I am so grateful to have gotten to spend time with her in Florida and have dinner with her while having really awkward experiences with the waiter and pretty much everyone we came in contact with.

2. My new colleagues, friends, fellow students of the NRL Academy are wonderful!
In the past few days I have gotten to meet some really amazing and BUH-RILLIANT girls. I've had nothing but good times with them all so far and I know that things will only get better over the next 6 weeks we spend together.  
some of the Academy girls before the final speaker on Saturday night

3. The incredible speakers that gave workshops at the Convention.

I don't even know where to begin to describe the people who led, spoke, presented, and motivated. 

Abby Johnson kicked things off with her story, which is always incredible to hear, but my favorite part of her presentation this time was her humor. That girl knows how to make Pro-Lifers laugh! She expanded more on her spiritual life this time than others times I have heard her speak; it was nice to hear. Some of my favorite quotes from her speech were:
"Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God." 
"Helping one person may not mean a lot to us, but it means a lot to our Savior."
"Somewhere out there someone is waiting for you to proclaim Life to them

Dr. Randall K. O'Bannon and Director of Education and Research for NRLC seriously KNOWS HIS STUFF when it comes to Planned Parenthood. His presentation The Hyper Political, Under Regulated, Mega Marketer of Abortion was one of the most comprehensive explanations of PP corruption I have ever heard (and ever understood). Some food for thought-
        Pregnancy test: $15
        Packet of birth control pills: $15-$50
        Pack of condoms: $6
        1st trimester surgical abortion: $451
        RU-486: $
There was so much valuable and shocking information in this presentation. I took super diligent notes so I could pass this knowledge along to Bobcats for Life in the fall and so I could further research it and I am just shocked at what turns up the more and more I look into it. My favorite quote from his presentation was "Planned Parenthood's plans typically don't involve parenthood."

We also heard from some Pro-Life Republicans who want to be President which was pretty neat. I need to look into them more, but from what I saw just that day- I thought Herman Cain and Rick Santorum seemed pretty legit on Life issues. Don't know who I support exactly, nor would this really be the time to get into that, but I liked them both. Santorum also has a child with Trisomy-18 which won him a lot of points in my book; it takes such an incredible person with an incredible heart to raise a child with that tragic condition. Curious to see what else I can find out about him. Also, we Skyped with Ron Paul, Michelle Bachmann, and Tim Pawlenty... no opinion on them really... except it sounded like Ron Paul was saying he thought abortion should be up to each state to decide and I think that would be a REALLY dumb move. Just my super educated opinion on that one...

Okay y'all... one of the most moving workshops I attended was Terri's Legacy about the story of Terri Schindler Schiavo. Her brother, Bobby Schindler, and sister, Suzanne Vitadamo, shared their experience with the dispute over Terri's life due to her husband's guardianship over their sister. I had never been fully aware of what happened to Terri because I was so young (and clueless) when it happened, but the story they shared broke my heart. I could not even imagine watching my own sister starved to death over 14 days, deprived of food and water just because she needed a feeding tube to receive sustenance. Food and water... which is now regarded as "medical treatment." They withdrew food and water while her family was more than willing to take her home and care for her themselves... just wow. Their foundation, the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network, has helped so many families faced with similar situations. I could hardly believe how frequently this is happening. To read about some of the successes and life-saving help they have provided, click here. I was so impressed by the selflessness and compassion shown by Bobby and Suzanne.

Baby Samuel reaching out of his mother's
uterus during a surgery to repair his
spina bifida
Photographer Michael Clancy
There were so many wonderful speakers that it would take me a really long time to give them each a shout out, but I feel so lucky to have been introduced to so many unique topics regarding the right to life from so many intelligent and talented people... like Michael Clancy who took the well known controversial photo of an  in utero surgery back in 1999. The picture has ignited much debate between Michael Clancy and the doctors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center regarding the photo's authenticity. Michael shared an amazing story of his difficult upbringing and the path that led him to the hospital room where the surgery on baby Samuel was performed. The picture has inspired many to understand the humanity and true nature of the preborn child as it reached out and grasped the doctor's hand as any newborn child might. 

4. Even though he was a speaker, he is my fave so he gets his own bullet point on this list.
Fr. Frank Pavone is so cool for many reasons (I wrote all these reasons down on his evaluation form after his workshop The Church, The State, and The Media). Fr. Frank is not only an awesome Catholic Priest, he is an outspoken defender of the unborn, a powerful and motivational public speaker, and a champion when it comes to utilizing social media outlets. Whether he is communicating via Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, YouTube, Priests for Life's website, brochures, newsletters, his EXCELLENT book, his Pro-Life Prayer meditations, or public speaking engagements, Fr. Frank always gets his message across clearly and powerfully. I was telling someone today that another one of my favorite things about Fr. Frank is that despite how super popular and important he is, he is so humble and he treats everyone in the Pro-Life movement as a friend, not a fan (though I think it's safe to say that most of us ARE fans). Priests for Life is definitely the best online resource a Pro-Life group could ask for thanks to Fr. Frank!

During the workshop The Church, The State, and The Media that Fr. Frank, Ernest Ohlhoff, and Steven Ertelt of Lifenews presented, some of my favorite quotes from Fr. Frank were "We are the community that is sent out to renew the face of the earth." and, after telling a story about a police officer claiming to be upset regarding the images Fr. Frank displayed on a poster, he said "What concern is it of the cops what the content of my sign is?... Protected speech means that the speaker can keep speaking when the hearer gets mad." Rock on, Father Frank!  Also, he is just super cool- especially now that he has Bryan Kemper of Stand True Ministries working with Priests for Life! Can you say coolest respect Life shirts ever?! Bryan gave me a copy of his book Social Justice Begins in the Womb and signed it and I am so stoked to start reading it. I just love that slogan: social justice begins in the womb. So true.
Bryan Kemper and Fr. Frank Pavone throwing up the Texas State Bobcats sign!
Now that the Convention is over, I am in DC for the next 6 weeks with some really great people and I am so excited to see what kind of knowledge and excitement the summer has in store! Other than some intense 8 hour days at the Academy, I'm excited to visit the Basilica, St. Matthew's Cathedral, the GW Newman Center, DC CUPCAKES, RED VELVET CUPCAKERY, and a few other fun places. :) Keep me in your prayers, or more specifically keep my feet in your prayers... hoping for a blister free month of wearing heels!

"Nothing we do to defend the human person, no matter how small, is ever unfruitful or forgotten. Our actions touch other lives and move other hearts in ways we can never fully understand in this world. Don’t ever underestimate the beauty and power of the witness you give in your pro-life work."
-Archbishop Charles Chaput

Sunday, June 12, 2011

legacies of love

Well, it is summer and as the year drew to a close, our Pro-Life club (Bobcats for Life) had an abundance of wonderful ideas and plans for this upcoming school year. I am so excited to already be planning events that will take place from August until January.

Dominika & I presenting on aborted
fetus disposal (with the help of
I spent the first week of June in Houston training with Texas Right to Life, a wonderful Pro-Life organization. Every summer they provide training for the students who are a part of their Generation Now scholarship program and it has been such a blessing. The training not only strengthens us, the students, as leaders on our campuses, but it gives us a whole new community of love, support, prayer, and such a great group of friends who can share in each others' frustrations and successes.

I feel so reenergized after training and hearing from some incredible speakers including a Catholic bioethicist and director of Human Life International of America, a Catholic anesthesiologist and mother, a woman conceived in rape, a woman whose mother tried to abort her in 1969 but survived the saline abortion, a public speaking expert, a post-abortive couple who have started an organization to help women who are post-abortive, a woman who was adopted and started an organization to promote adoption, a chiropractor whose wife and 2 of his children are adopted, a Pro-Life graphic designer, 2 beautiful ladies of the Texas Right to Life legislative team, a mother whose unborn child was diagnosed with Trisomy-18, and a man whose life was spared by a notorious abortionist.

Our group with a man whose life was spared by Dr. Tiller
One recurring idea that I found in some of the stories that were shared with us was legacies of love. The man whose life was spared by the abortionist later went on to be adopted by a loving family, meet a beautiful woman, and they now have 2 children of their own. Had he been aborted, not only would his own life have ended but his adoptive family, future wife, future children, and future grandchildren to come would have been deprived of their happiness and even their very own lives. Aborting a child is more than just ending one life, it is ending a legacy. Likewise, from the man whose wife and 2 children were adopted, imagine where he would be had the mothers of the people he loves the most had not chosen life. Adoption is a loving option and without it, where would this man be?

Just a little thought for now. Here's a few pictures of other events of the week!

Dominika and a sweet friend we made volunteering at a home for young people living with Autism

The girls crammed into a phone booth outside The Black Lab
My fellow Bobcat, Jonathan, and I with Elizabeth Graham
My sweet friend Dominika and I before the Scholarship Dinner

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