Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

At this time of year we want to let you all know how much we appreciate everything you do for "our kids".  This is a mission that we feel was "assigned" to us and many others.  We could not do what we do without all of you.  We have been blessed not only by the kids and their progress but by getting to know so many wonderful people along the way.

Last weekend Marquel was invited to a party hosted by several of the girls in her 6th grade Sunday School class.  One of the mom's asked me if it would be ok, and said her girls were really enjoying getting to know Marquel.  I was so thrilled it brought tears to my eyes. 

This event brought to mind several challenges that the kids face.  With their mother in the Projects of New Orleans, time was of no real meaning.  They ate when there was food and slept wherever they happened to be.  Even though their Father was more middle class for New Orleans, time is still an issue.  A few weeks ago I told him I would pick the kids up around 7:00pm.  I arrived at their house at 7:05 and their car was gone.  About 10 minutes later they pulled up with a gallon of milk.  Since the grocery store is only 2 blocks away, I knew they had left around the time I told them I would be there.  The one clock in their house is usually not on the correct time, something we find quite unsettling for our lifestyle.  We have learned to always call him when we are on our way! 

The kids have finally figured out that breakfast is in the morning, lunch is in the middle of the day, and supper (or to confuse things more "dinner") is in the evening.  Leaning to tell time has taken several years for Marquel to master, and she has become our daily "planner". 

Parties with friends might be expected with most girls, but for Marquel it truely was a monumental event. She thoroughly enjoyed herself and we are so thankful that she was included in the fun.

Marquel's party was to be from 5:00pm to 9:00pm.  Her first concern was what time we had to leave our house in order for her to be there at exactly 5:00.  Then we complicated things further for her by saying we would take the other kids to family movie night at church and that movie did not start until 7:00pm.  We finally had to assure her that we would get her there on time and pick her up at 9:00, no earlier and no later. 

For all she has been through, Marquel seems to be comfortable and confident with herself.  We are so thankful to her friends who invited her to join their fun.

Another issue quickly came to light as Annie wondered how she would manage for a few hours without Marquel.   Annie feels rather insecure when Marquel is not close by.  At our house their bunk beds are head to head, but at their house they sleep together in the same bed.  If Annie is at our house by herself she quickly becomes bored.  When Marquel talks about going to a different school for high school or college, we can sense Annie's anxiety.

We know that as they experience these situations they will become more comfortable with them.   These little lessons are harder to learn than for most kids who grow up with schedules and a feeling of security.

As I looked for a recent picture of Marquel, I ran across pictures of her when we first met them.  How little she was and how tall she is getting!

Happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of you!

Randy, Stephanie, Marquel, Annie, Charlie and Chip

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Poverty & Welfare - Myths, Misconceptions and Facts

With Thanksgiving approaching, I began thinking of the big meal and fun day we were planning with friends.  How much we have to be thankful for!

I recently had the opportunity to listen to two ladies discuss their opinions on poverty.  One lady worked for Family Services for years and understood the challenges and issues of people living in poverty.  The other lady was quite judgmental and had some very disparaging remarks.  It was an enlightening experience.

Over the past few years we have learned more than we ever thought we would need to know about "welfare".  We had a lot of misconceptions. 

One of the biggest lessons we have learned is that we must be able to put ourselves in someone else's shoes in order to help them.  This is not an easy thing to do.

When Mr. Thornton agreed to take on the responsbility of his wife's 4 children, we knew he needed help with expenses.  Our system is sometimes very unfair.  Mr. Thornton receives a small Social Security check and also Social Security Disability due to a very serious injury.  His disability check is $125 a month, certainly not something he can live on.  And, it denies him the right to have a job.  He is not a lazy person, and he would much rather be working if he could.  

Since he had never applied for any kind of assistance, we took him to the "Welfare" office to apply for food stamps.  What a humbling experience that was (and continues to be).  Finding where to go was our first challenge, then we filled out pages and pages of forms in triplicate, then we waited - and waited - and waited.  When we ask how much longer we need to wait, the girl behind the desk looks over her glasses and gives us a curt reply.  This trip takes most of a day, and then we must wait up to 30 days for an approval letter. 

In Texas the maximum amount alloted on food stamps is about $125 per person.  Could you feed your family on that?  Would you be able to purchase the most nutritious food?  Thankfully Mr. Thornton knows how to cook beans, rice, and other nutrious foods that go a long way.  Many people do not know how to do this.

Food stamps are for food items only.  You cannot purchase other necessities.  There is no monthly cash payment.  If you apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), this federally funded program allows a one time cash payment of $1,000 (or it can be spread over 6 monthly payments). 

If a family's total income is low enough (we have not been able to asertain the exact amount, but it is somewhere around $5,000 yearly income), the family can receive Medicaid.  This is a state run health insurance program.

Applications for food stamps and Medicaid must be completed every six months for on-going assistance.

According to the San Antonio Food Bank many people who qualify for food stamps do not apply.  I encourage you to take their Hunger 101 exercise and get just a tiny taste of what it takes to get assistance.  This is not for the meek and mild!

As I was working on this blog last night, PBS had a special on Hunger in America.  One of their guests was the director of the San Antonio Food Bank.  They have seen a marked increase in applications for assistance due to the economy.  They have also experienced a drop in donations, as they rely mostly on private food drives.  He stated that previous donors are now asking for assistance.  Hunger is at an all time high in America. 

The last time you had the opportunity to participate in a food drive did you contribute?  Did you dig to the back of your pantry for the oldest can of food or the box that was a year out of date?

Many of those who qualify for Medicaid do not use it.  This is a result of generational lifestyles.  If you had never gone to the doctor or dentist as a child, would you understand the importance of taking your own children?  It is a very cumbersome system, and one which Mr. Thornton would not be able to navigate on his own.

We are extremely thankful that "our kids" qualify for Medicaid.  We make sure they get their yearly checkups and dentist appointments.  They are learning what they will need to do for their own children someday, and in the process breaking the cycle of poor health.  Medicaid covers mental health issues, and we would be in big trouble without the counselors and doctors who treat the Post Traumatic Stress, issues of abuse and neglect, and ADHD symptoms.

Are there some who abuse the system?  Of course.  There are those who will find a way.  But the next time we are tempted to be critical of those who receive "welfare", we need to be sure that we really understand the issues.  And we need to ask ourselves, what are we personally doing to make the situation better for future generations?

Until next time. . .

Monday, November 16, 2009

Catching Up!

The first 9 weeks of school were very successful for the kids. Marquel had only one C in Social Studies, but we think that is more due to reading comprehension. Annie struggles a little with Math, but she has a Math tutor. Charlie got all A's and B's and comes home almost every day with E for Excellent behavior - amazing! Chip is getting used to going to school and Pre-K has been good for him. He is speaking more clearly and his social skills have improved.

Charlie got a ribbon for AB Honor Roll and all except Annie got ribbons for Good Citizenship. Annie's teacher this year is more no-nonsense, which is good, but it has been a learning curve for Annie! She had an "Awesome" for last week's behavior, so she is improving.

Halloween was great fun for the kids, and they got lots of it. Marquel is 12, but not willing to give up a costume and candy! They had Fall Festival party at church, Halloween party at our neighbors house, and Trick-or-Treating on Halloween with our friend Teresa. We don't mind spending a little on costumes because they get lots of use and lots of memories for these kids who had so little.

We decided the kids had progressed enough that we could try taking them to Sunday School with them on a regular basis. Marquel is in a class with just 6th graders and an awesome couple who leads the class. She is really enjoying the class and has made some great new friends. They have invited her to a party, and she is SOOOO excited!

This year has gone by so fast and Christmas will be here soon. If you would like to sponsor one of the kids for Christmas, please let me know. They don't ask for much, but they do have a few needs and wants.

Until next time . . .

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hermann Sons Humanitarian Award

Last Friday we were invited to attend a meeting of the Hermann Sons of Boerne. They are a non-profit insurance group in Texas that sponsor summer camps for kids and retirement homes. Each year they honor a Humanitarian of the Year to someone from their community.

Randy and I were extremely honored and very humbled to receive this award. We want each and every one of you to know that we share it with you, because without you we could not do what we do.

Thank you!
Randy and Stephanie