Monday, August 27, 2007

First Day of School!

After the huge fiasco last year with getting the kids enrolled in school, this year went smoothly. The new school was very accomodating, as I took the kids to registration while their Father had to be in New Orleans tending to his very ill sisters.

The school allowed me to register the kids without their Father's signature on the paperwork. Last Friday Turk took the kids to school for "Meet Your Teacher" time. This was an excellent idea, as Marquel had heard that her teacher was "mean". Meeting her and getting to know her put Marquel at ease. She understands now that there is a difference between being "firm" and being "mean".

Last night, Anthonyione ("Annie") told her Father that she couldn't wait until bedtime, because she knew when she woke up she would be able to go to school! What a huge success story for these kids. But let me explain why:

Last year as I helped Marquel study for her 3rd grade achievement tests, I asked her about going to school in New Orleans. She looked at me blankly and said "I didn't go to school in New Orleans". The other night as the kids sat around our table eating dinner, Charlie talked excitedly about going to Kindergarten.

"I wish I could have gone to Kindergarten," Annie said rather wistfully.

With Turk there, we asked him about Annie and Marquel's comments. "What do you mean, you didn't go to school?" he asked them, rather incredulously. "Don't you remember I picked you up every day. Remember I took you to my office where I had the back room made into a playroom for you?"

The girls sat looking blankely at him. Once again we are reminded of the effects of generational poverty. In the matiorchal family, Mom doesn't care if her kids are educated. In fact, it is a threat to her. Couple this with the probable lack of resources in the New Orleans public schools, and school was at the very best "unmemorable" for these kids.

What a great milestone we have seen them achieve. They know their Father will come to school to check on them. He will help them with their homework. He will be there when they get off the bus. They are learning that school is important as they begin to think about "what they want to be when they grow up."

Until next time!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Why did I write this book?

As time went by following Hurricane Katrina, and we talked with more people, we began to hear a recurring story. We saw and heard from many very good hearted people who were trying to do what they could to help in various ways, but were left feeling betrayed when the recipient did not act or react in the way that was expected. We heard questions such as, “Why didn’t they evacuate?” or comments such as “this type of people take and take.” It is our fear that many people were turned off and will not be willing to lend a helping hand the future.

When we volunteered to help out for a week at a shelter, it was explained to us that as families were selected and brought to the shelter, there would be “Sponsors” ready and waiting to help the family relocate. As the days went by it seemed to us that this may have been the plan, but it had not materialized. During that week we developed a relationship with the Thornton family and when we were approached to “Sponsor” them, we felt that we were in the best position and willing to accept the challenge. We had no idea where to begin or how to go about helping them in the most effective way. There were many times we stumbled along with no one to turn to for advice, feeling very inadequate and not knowing if what we were doing was the right or best thing to do.

The book began as a diary. When I let a friend read it, she came back with many good questions along the lines of “how did we know what to do?” The answer was that we didn’t know, but in the process we had learned many valuable lessons. We had to confront head-on many things that we had chosen to ignore, not wanting to know about or deal with.

As we discussed the idea of publishing a book, we knew that there would be those who would have strong reactions on various issues that the book and the Katrina story presented overall. Our hope is that in telling this story, including the good, the bad, and the ugly, that it would encourage others to think about the issues in a different light and hopefully learn from our experiences, mistakes and all.

The intent of this book was not to pat ourselves on the back for what we did or attempted to do – we know we could have done far more, and been far more effective in many situations. If it were the case that we were/are “doing charitable deeds before men” then we would have omitted all the bungled missteps and embarrassing moments. It was very difficult to hand over the first copy of the book, to put our life out there for others to read about. Our initial reaction was “what have we done?” Even our closest friends have said, “I had no idea. . . ” The intent of this book is solely to pass along an experience in dealing with a generation poverty situation, and hopefully spur another line of thought for people who feel that victims should “do more for themselves.”

The Thornton family has humbled us in so many ways. Our friends, family, and church have been extremely supportive of our efforts; they are the true heroes in this story. Along with us, they have fallen in love with these little kids, doting on them and making sure that they have what they need. If anyone deserves a pat on the back, it is all the “Angels” who gave us support in many different ways. Whether they realize it or not, they are helping us break the cycle of poverty in our society.

As the search began for a publisher, it quickly became apparent that this was an exercise in futility. If you are fortunate enough to get the attention of a publisher, it may take years to get a book in print. When we were approached with the idea that the book could be used as a tool to help us solve the long-term housing dilemma for this family, I chose the self-publishing route. I knew that I would not have the benefit of a publisher to “polish” the story. The book is not intended to be a great work of literature; it is a story that I tried to present it in a straightforward, easy to read way. Successful marketing and promotion of a book requires the author be in the spotlight, even when they prefer otherwise.

If this book encourages the readers to look within themselves, and to begin to think about what they can do to educate themselves on how to help those around them more effectively, then I feel my goal has been met. If it evokes a strong emotion or reaction, whether positive or seems to be negative, that is good, because it has made the reader think.


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Baby Steps and GIANT Steps

On very rare occasions, the kids mom will call. She calls from different phones (whoever will let her use one) and usually it is to rip into Turk about something she has dreamed up in her drunken state.

Not long ago she called and asked to talk to her 10 year old daughter Marquel. She evidently asked Marquel if she had any money she could send, because Turk heard her say "No, I'm saving my money for college!" and she slammed down the phone.

We give the kids a dollar now and then, when they do their little chores without prompting, or when they behave well. They each have a bank and Marquel is particularly proud of her little savings. She wants to be a teacher when she grows up, so we have talked about saving for college.

Anthonyione used to fold a dollar into a little square and carry it around, sometimes for days until it disappeared. Even she is now giving me her folded up dollars to put in her bank.

While driving by a drive-up bank, Charlie asked me what that was. I explained that is was a bank and that was where you put your money. "So they can spend it?" he asked. I said no, they would keep it safe for him. At 5 years of age, he is learning too that his money goes in his bank.

Sometimes progress comes with little baby steps, and sometimes we see the GIANT steps!

Until next time - -