“Wow, Anessa, all those ideas you outlined in your last post are great! I can’t wait to get started helping people so we’re not all so dependent on the government!
Um… where do I start?”
Aw, thanks! And good question, imaginary blog reader! You’re in very high voice today, may I add (your voice is kind of squeaky in my imagination. Which is the opposite of how I sound. I’ve turned into a sexy, smokey-voiced younger version of Judy Holliday).
But seriously, when you consider the problems faced by our society at large I really feel the temptation to throw up my hands and let the government handle it too. They’re bigger than I am. They’ve got more resources than I do. We’re not going to play the “who’s better” comparison game. Why not let them handle it?
Because, that’s not how I believe our country should be. You can believe it if you want, again, not telling anyone what to believe. But I have some ideas that might stimulate your thinking machine and who knows? Ideas make the world go ’round.
So, start with the problems that are right in front of you, or what you’re interested and passionate about.
This summer I was presented with two very different issues that are state-wide and need addressing. They both came to me in rather unusual ways. Before I go any further, I will disclose everything: yes, I have some connections in our state government. I could just tell them about these problems and sit back and wait for them to come up with ideas to fix the problems. But I haven’t yet, although I’ve had ample opportunity to do so. I’ve had a few other things on my mind and then I started this two-part series and it was like, “hm, I have ideas about this. Let’s float these ideas out there before I turn the issues over to the government.” Also, I know that our state government is aware of these issues and that solutions for them may already be in the works. I don’t know. I’ll share my ideas for these two issues anyway.
This one came to me in a very unexpected manner. I was having LASIK eye surgery in June (fabulous, I highly recommend it, I love how well my eyes work now!). The prep technician wasn’t overly chatty, just nice. I mean, she was really there to do just a few jobs: make sure my paperwork was in order, put numbing/dilating drops in my eyes, and offer me Valium for any nerves I might be experiencing. I accepted the Valium, but it had not yet kicked in when the following conversation occurred.
It started with her personal cell phone ringing. She glanced at it and huffed, but didn’t answer it.
“Sorry,” she said, “I’m just waiting for the governor to call.” Immediately my interest was piqued. We’re a small-population state. Many people know the governor. I myself was invited to his inaugural ball at the state capitol a few years ago. So I wondered if the anticipated call was personal or professional. “They always call when I can’t talk, though,” she went on, “I’m so busy that although I really need to talk with them, it’s really hard to find the right time to connect.”
I honestly don’t remember if I asked a question or not (maybe the Valium was working faster than I thought). But either way, she satisfied my curiosity.
“My son is autistic.” She explained, “and we need someone to help us put all the assistance together. I know that there’s resources out there to help us, but I don’t know what they are, what would work best for us and our situation, and how to connect with them. I need someone to just help us put it all together. I don’t have time. I’m a single mother, working a full time job, and with his special needs it’s everything I can do to just keep my head above water. The school he’s in is not a good fit for him, they don’t know what to do with him, and honestly I don’t either. We need an advocate. Iowa has them, I have friends there who tell me about how wonderful their advocate is and how much they help connect them with the programs that are already there to help families like mine.”
Now, obviously, the governor’s office was already working on a solution to this mother’s dilemma. So we may just see legislation promoted by the governor’s office to address it come up during the next legislative session. It got my wheels churning though, especially as I thought about this blog post. One of my beliefs is that government should be small. It should not do everything for us. But this lady needs help with her son; she can’t do it by herself. But how could we help her without growing the government?
It was probably the word “advocate” that made me connect the dots: what about a program similar to Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)? If you’ve never heard of them, CASA is a program that connects trained volunteers with abused and neglected children going through the legal system by themselves. Basically, it’s a person who is there for a child during a scary and traumatic time in that child’s life. From the website:
“Volunteers get to know the child by talking with everyone in that child’s life: parents and relatives, foster parents, teachers, medical professionals, attorneys, social workers and others. They use the information they gather to inform judges and others of what the child needs and what will be the best permanent home for them.
You do not have to be a lawyer or a social worker to be a volunteer. We welcome people from all walks of life. We are simply looking for people who care about children and have common sense. As a volunteer, you will be thoroughly trained and well supported by professional staff to help you through each case.
You must pass a background check, participate in a 30-hour pre-service training course and agree to stay with a case until it is closed (a year and a half on average). Read more about the requirements and role of being a CASA volunteer.”
It is funded by the national government through the judicial system – expenses are things like office staff, training personnel, etc. But by recruiting volunteers they save millions of dollars, provide a much needed service, and give people the reward and satisfaction of serving the least of these.
So, could a similar system, made up primarily of volunteers who have a heart for children with special needs, be created to be Autism Advocates, or Challenge Advocates (advocating for all types of physical and mental challenges)? They would need training, yes, so there would have to be some overhead and expense, but it would be minimal compared to the expense of hiring hundreds of advocates who each have a massive caseload that they’re trying to juggle while most likely dealing with budget cuts.
This is probably not a new idea – there is nothing new under the sun. I can’t remember ever hearing about it before, so if I just totally plagiarized your program or idea I’m sorry. I know that there are places for people with mental challenges – my uncle was mentally challenged. I never really knew him; I only remember seeing him once, when he was dying of leukemia when I was seven. He spent the majority of his life in a mental institution that has since closed. I know of wonderful centers and homes for adults with mental challenges where they are supported, they can do meaningful work, and receive the help they need. But there’s a gap. What about the families with children or teenagers whose challenges aren’t dire enough to warrant such services, but are finding life slightly more difficult than they can handle? No, I can’t solve this problem. But I can support legislation to create such a program, and then I could volunteer for it.
This is definitely not a new issue, and one that I know the state (and federal) government is already working to address.
I was visiting with a friend of mine who is a corrections officer in a minimum security jail. He’s a great guy, decent, kind yet firm, loves the Lord with all his heart. As we were talking he pointed out all the places in his house where he has hidden guns.
“I’m scared that one of the inmates I release might find out where I live, and just because I’m a guard, would come after me and my family.” He shook his head, “we’re minimum security, we used to only get the minor offenders. But now the jails are so full we’re getting harder criminals. Just last week I had to release a guy who is a child molester. He started molesting kids in the 80’s, was caught, sentenced for his crime, and did his time. His full time, because he refused all offers of treatment or rehabilitation. He was released. He molested more kids. Went back in. Served his full sentence again. I just released him because his time was up, but I know it’s only a matter of time before he’s back in here, because another kid will have been messed up by him. Yet, we can’t keep him because we have no space for him. Our jails are so full of drug offenders that we have to let the more hardened criminals go to minimum units like mine, or be released. People who are sentenced for minor drug offenses should not go to jail. They should go to treatment centers. We’re not equipped to handle drug addicts, to support them when they go through withdrawal. And drug use is so widespread there is no way we have space for all of them. We need more treatment centers.”
I sat and listened, nodded, murmured “mm-hm” at points, but mostly he just talked and I could tell that just talking was a release for him.
Now, drug use. There’s a problem I know is bigger than me. Honestly, it’s even slightly overwhelming the government. I know that some people think the answer to that problem is to decriminalize some drugs, like marijuana. I’m not going to get into that debate here, because I don’t think that’s the real issue.
I think there are multiple facets to addressing this problem:
First: we do need more treatment centers or to expand the ones we have. I know of an excellent program in my state that I’ve only heard positive things about. I think I’ll send them a donation, because I know that they treat people in a Christian manner that aligns with my beliefs. There are lots of programs out there to support, coming from all different belief viewpoints, so it would probably not be hard to find one to support, maybe even get more involved with through volunteering or something like that.
Second: I can lobby my legislators and support the efforts of the government to sentence more drug offenders to treatment centers, instead of to jail, so that the people who are suffering from drug use actually get help, not just get locked away.
Third: I can work at addressing what’s at the heart of drug use. Guys, I don’t need to tell you about the problems in this world. You know what they are. We live in such a broken and hurting world. People are looking to drugs and alcohol to fill the place of relationships, meaning, satisfaction, love, God. Only God can fill those holes completely, but people can help too. How can I connect with people and show God’s love to them? Honestly for me, that’s harder now that I don’t work at the library. I don’t see them anymore, the drug users. I used to. I used to greet them and ask what computer they wanted. I used to listen to them tell me about their dog, or uncle, or cousin, or job. Honestly, I don’t know how I can do that directly now. In my current place I feel very isolated.
I know this isn’t possible right now, but I have a dream. Yes, it involves Trent, as the majority of my dreams still do. He currently works at an inner city church in a fairly rough neighborhood. He was concerned actually about our safety living there, when I was still a part of the picture. I know that after he moved in (after the break up) he installed a security system, since he would still have his daughter there from time to time. In June, when we were both incredibly stressed about jobs – he was losing his, I was looking for a new job so I could move there – I came across the listing for this job at this church. It was a such a perfect fit for both of us. It used both our talents and passions: his musical gift, and my passion for other cultures. I dreamed of living there, working in the church, working with the ministry center to transform that area of the city. I dreamed of starting a seed library, to encourage people to supplement their resources by growing their own food and elevating spirits through beautifying the neighborhood. I dreamed of giving classes about homemaking in the ministry center, because that is one of my passions. I dreamed of hosting Bible studies and small groups in our home, encouraging people to grow in their relationship with God. I dreamed of hosting marriage and parenting conferences, to help strengthen and support families. I dreamed of going on bike rides with Trent through the neighborhood, to help us manage my depression and his ADHD, and greeting people by name as we rode by, becoming familiar, friendly faces to the people who live there.
Most of all, I dreamed of hosting a weekly (at most, or monthly at least) neighborhood supper. A casual, no-frills, no-fuss gathering where anyone and everyone would be welcome. A time to let people know they were wanted, loved, and accepted. Not a time to preach the Gospel, just a time to get to know each other and have fun. I actually went as far as to think about how many styrofoam bowls from Sam’s Club I would need to get for a month, at least, for the winter months when soup would probably be on the menu. In the summer I envisioned grilling hot dogs and playing lawn games in the backyard (or front yard – I’ve seen pictures but since I’ve never been there I don’t know which is bigger). Make it a come and go event, if there are too many people for the house to hold (which there probably would be – I’ve seen pictures of the house and it’s not very big). Play games late into the evening with people who just don’t quite want to go home yet. Talk about anything and everything for as long as people need someone to listen to them. Mostly, develop relationships and model Christ-love to them, so that they don’t even feel the need for something else to fill the holes inside them.
My heart burns within me for that dream; I get passionate and fired up about it. I know it’s not attainable now. Maybe someday. Maybe never. That dream is no longer up to me. I’m still trying to figure out how I can do something like that here, but all my ideas and thoughts just fall flat, seem empty and impossible on my own. I’ll keep praying, asking God for ways I can glorify Him now and make Him known now to people who are desperate for Him, yet probably don’t even realize their need.
So, those are just two issues of the myriads that surround us. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Tip of the glacier really. When you look at the big picture, it is impossible and overwhelming. But how do you eat an elephant? Yep, one bite at a time. And no, please don’t take that as inflammatory rhetoric and go all cannibalistic on your Republican neighbor who blocks the view to back out of your driveway with massive political signs. Look around. What needs do you see that you think, “hm, I could do something about that!” and do it. What are you passionate about? Don’t bash on those who get involved by running for political office – they probably really are motivated by a desire to do good and help. And I’ve worked on several campaigns – it is not for the faint of heart. Anyone who runs for an elected office should be admired for being willing to stick their neck out there. I mean, you probably didn’t have to go through an interview process with hundreds or thousands of people who had to approve of you to get your job. So, if you’re a current political candidate or elected official, I admire you. No matter what party you align yourself with, I respect your bravery.
What do you think? Any issues that get you fired up and ready to take action?