Podcast Episode: Black History Month

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Black History Month

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about Black History Month.

OK, I know what some of you are thinking…another white person talking about Black History Month. And those of you who are thinking that…you’re right. It’s easy to pick a subject to talk about and use the trendy hashtag to get readers. I could tell you my thoughts on Black History Month or times when I have seen someone bullied or targeted for harassment because of the color of their skin. But I’m not going to do that.

Actually, I’m not really going to talk about Black History Month. This is going to be a very brief episode. Why? Because Black History Month is not about me or my voice or my opinions or my experiences or things I have witnessed. If you are honest with yourself, you know the effects of racism and the hold it still has in this country. Me talking about it as a white person in this podcast isn’t going to change that.

So why even record this? Because I want to remind us all that this month is about black voices and black stories and black heroes and everyday black parents raising kids in our communities.

I really wanted to acknowledge this month and honor it in some way, but instead of me retelling anything, I want to challenge us all to look to see the stories of black people in our communities and in our national history. Really look. Try to set aside any prejudices you may come with and really listen.

The first black voice I really listened to was Martin Luther King, Jr. Remember I am a product of the South and my early education did not involve offering any opportunities to study black history or read black authors. But when I first read King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” I kept a copy that I still have to this day. It really touched me and forced me to think about so many things that I had never thought of before.

I want to read part of this letter here:

“But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.”

Later in the letter, King writes:

“You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

“Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”

King goes on to say:

“Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

“We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.”

His letter is very lengthy, but very powerful. My first challenge to you for this episode is to actually find a copy of the letter online and read it all the way through. Then reread it a few days later. Let the power of the words and thoughts soak in. This letter is still very relevant today.

My second challenge: find black voices to listen to on this subject. That’s why I’m not sharing anything personal in this episode. I want you to find black podcasters and listen to them. Go to a lecture featuring a black historian…read a book written by a black author…find a black preacher and listen to her sermons…follow online several black politicians and read their posts about what they are working for in their communities…read books about black history month to your children. Share social media posts supporting a black-owned business in your area. Give that business an online review.

This month is not about our white interpretation of Black History Month. It’s about us looking to see the black neighbors in our community…hearing the black voices in our nation…and going back and seeing history with a brutal honesty…finding truth in the black voices that we have too often tried to erase.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

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Podcast Episode: Learning from Old Friends

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Learning from Old Friends

 

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about something that may sound really familiar to you. How many of you grew up watching Sesame Street or watched it with your grandchildren?

I can still remember parts of the theme song:

Sunny Day
Sweepin’ the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet…

That song is going to be stuck in your head now…I would sing it, but trust me, you don’t want to hear my singing voice. But as a kid, I sang along with all of their characters…Elmo, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Bert, Ernie, and well, I’m not sure Oscar the Grouch did much singing.

Recently, I discovered something that many of you may have already known…Sesame Street is about much more than the television show. I’ve been following the work of Sesame Street in Communities. Their website—sesamestreetincommunities.org—builds upon their already strong commitment to addressing kids’ developmental, physical, and emotional needs.

In 1969, Sesame Street was created from the idea that early education played an important role in a successful future. The creators wanted all children—especially those living below the poverty line—to have access to early educational opportunities. Joan Ganz Cooney first created TV programming as a documentary producer for public television. As her career progressed, she began to think about television as a teaching medium. With this in mind, she founded the Children’s Television Workshop in 1968. Their first show was Sesame Street, followed in 1971 by The Electric Company. Just a little extra information: In 1989, Cooney received an Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement and has been the recipient of countless other honors for her work.

Sesame Street was conceived in 1966 during dialogues between Joan Ganz Cooney and Carnegie Corporation vice president Lloyd Morrisett. They wanted to create a children’s television show that would “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them,” such as helping young children prepare for school. After two years of research, the Children’s Television Workshop received a combined grant of $8 million from the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation and the U.S. federal government to create and produce a new children’s television show.

Here’s a little bit more extra information that I learned about the show. Seems it started with a little controversy over a few things.

  1. Some critics didn’t like the name. They thought it was too hard for young children to say.
  2. Mississippi at first refused to air the show, citing its integrated cast, but then reversed the decision.
  3. Latinos and women complained about stereotyping.

And speaking of something else I didn’t know about the show…Jim Henson’s Muppets (and how can we talk about this show without mentioning them) were added to the “street scenes” of the show against the advice of educational advisers. The advisers thought that seeing the Muppets in the scenes throughout the neighborhood would be upsetting to kids. The characters originally could only be seen in their own segments of the show. I can’t imagine Sesame Street without Big Bird walking around with the kids. Of, and speaking of Big Bird…I didn’t know that the character won more than 100 Emmy awards.

We may think that Sesame Street has basically stayed the same since its debut on TV, but the show has evolved through the years, being more sensitive to the needs of its audience. For example, when childhood obesity became an increasingly difficult challenge to tackle in our nation, Cookie Monster declared on national television that cookies were only a “sometimes food.”

And the show producers were not afraid to talk about difficult issues that others may steer away from with kids. Childbirth, and child abuse, were among sensitive topics discussed, and that openness continued into episodes that related to the September 11th attacks and Hurricane Katrina. When Will Lee, who played the beloved store owner “Mr. Hooper,” died in 1982, his passing was talked about in an Emmy-winning episode. The show has also recently introduced the topic of homelessness to its viewers. Viewers also got to meet Julia, the first Sesame Street Muppet with autism

I think I have really taken Sesame Street for granted. But even if we all agree about how wonderful the show is, why am I talking about today as if something new is happening? Well, a few months ago, I saw a social media post about the Yellow Feather Fund. You can go to their website…yellowfeatherfund.org…and read more about this. The Sesame Street Yellow Feather Fund brings education to children in need—helping them grow smarter, stronger and kinder.

Here are a few examples from their website detailing the work of this fund:

*Twelve million children under the age of eight have had to leave their homes due to the Syrian conflict, and many have no access to the quality education that can set them on the path to a brighter future. Sesame Street is working with the International Rescue Committee to bring critical early education directly to young refugee children in the Syrian response region—and providing success strategies for their parents as well. Their loveable Muppets add so much joy to the lives of the children. Your donation to the Yellow Feather Fund helps them bring the laughter, learning, and hope to these children who desperately need it.

*Military families experience unique challenges like deployments, homecomings, relocations, and sometimes grief. For more than 12 years, Sesame Street has helped children and their families build resilience in times of separation and change. Working with military and child development advisors, they create books, videos, digital toolkits, and other free resources featuring the lovable little Elmo and friends. When you give to the Yellow Feather Fund, you help them build a virtual support network for the 700,000 young children with a parent in the service and help them develop success strategies for facing military milestones.

*One in 68 American children is diagnosed with autism, and nearly every family is affected in some way. Sesame Street helps children and families with the everyday challenges autism can present—through engaging, fun, (and free!) videos, books, and digital content in both English and Spanish. And they reach out to the public at large, promoting acceptance and understanding around autism spectrum disorder. Your gift to the Yellow Feather Fund enables them to research, create, and distribute materials used by educators, families, and service providers nationwide—and helps them spread the message that every child is unique, and every child is amazing.

You want to know something amazing…you can access a lot of their resources free of charge. And if you donate to the fund, you allow other families to have access to the resources.

I went to the Sesame Street in Communities website and found so many resources that I was not previously aware of. Through ongoing collaboration, training experiences, and local partnerships, this website continually adds content that meets the changing needs of our communities. As you scroll through the site, you can find hundreds of bilingual multi-media tools to help kids and families deepen their knowledge during the early years of birth through six (and this is a critical window for brain development). Their resources engage kids and adults in everyday moments and daily routines—from teaching early math and literacy concepts, to encouraging families to eat nutritious foods, to serious topics such as divorce and food insecurity.

They have resources for a wide range of issues that affect our communities: community violence, coping with incarceration of a family member, dealing with divorce, homelessness, preparing for emergencies, grieving, facing traumatic experiences, needing and giving comfort, and the need to learn to be resilient.

The website offers a section filled with information on staying mentally and physically healthy. Families have resource pages for learning to care and share, eating well, caring for children, explaining autism, playing together, building routines, bonding, managing asthma, handling tantrums, and many more topics.

The website also has educational resources for language development, financial education, science, reading and writing, and math skills.

These things I am mentioning aren’t just fun little games for kids to play. Each page is filled with professional and community resources for family members to explore. There are interactive pages, videos, and articles written by professionals to help us all be able to be life-long learners on issues that affect our families and our communities.

Now of course, there’s still the website for kids—sesamestreet.org—filled with fun and games for all ages. We can’t forget about that.

So, what’s our challenge for the week. Consider donating to the Yellow Feather Fund to keep this material available for all members of our communities. But here’s a big challenge that will take a little time—explore the Sesame Street in Communities website and familiarize yourself with all of the resources there. You may run across something that will help you. But, also, if you know what’s there, you can pass this along to community members who may need this information. Know a young parent who isn’t familiar with milestones for the growth and development of a child? Know a parent of a toddler struggling with tantrums? Anyone in your community looking for information on eating healthier? dealing with asthma? explaining autism to a sibling?

This information is publicly available free of charge and is frequently updated as we learn more about various topics. Find out what’s there and share it with others.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Memory Room: A Poem about Remembering

I was honored to recently have a glimpse into a room that held a lot of memories of a family I have known for a few years. I wrote this because I was so touched that I was allowed to glimpse into the room and share the memories for the moment.

Memory Room

It’s the small room

tucked upstairs

out of the view

of most visitors

but I linger there often

sometimes staying busy

with a task at hand

but sometimes

just remembering

the hands who had

touched all that

I filled this room with…

a grandmother who

dusted the top of the chest,

the young girl who

tugged at a dresser drawer,

the mother who lifted

the lid of the wooden chest

to fill it with keepsakes

and memories for me

to hold dear…

so, when I am here

in my memory room

I am surrounded by

the touches of

generations before me

who placed pictures on

dressers and folded clothes

for the drawers and laughed

and cried over items that

were shared and treasured

over time and I add my

touches to each piece and

leave behind my treasures

on the wooden surfaces or

hidden deep inside and

I place items for my

daughter within her reach

and put treasures just

out of reach of my

first grandchild and I

wonder who will dust

these next after me

and who will open

a drawer and smile

at what was left inside

and who will be the

keeper of the memories

I have inside my memory room.

                              –Chris Pepple ©2019

Podcast Episode: Drip Irrigation

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Drip Irrigation

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about an organization that I have been following for the last ten years…Healing Hands International.

Healing Hands International, a nonprofit organization based in Nashville, Tenn., began in 1991 when Randy Steger, a Lipscomb University marketing professor, hoped to teach his class how to use their talents to help those in need. Twenty university students hoped to make a difference. Hundreds of donors hoped to help the cause. When hope took over, a small class project grew to become Healing hands International (HHI), an international nonprofit humanitarian relief organization that touches thousands of people’s lives every year. Since its beginning, Healing Hands International has delivered more than $100 million in aid to more than 75 countries around the world (and I’m pretty sure that the number is much higher than this…I think this is an older statistic.)

Here’s more recent information from just one aspect of the work Healing Hands International does: Since it began, the agriculture program for HHI has conducted a total of 535 workshops in 35 countries, training 27,466 people firsthand. Many of their trainees are quick to share what they’ve learned with others, creating a multiplying effect. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization “Agriculture production needs to increase 70% by 2050 to feed the world.” HHI’s simple, practical, affordable, sustainable agriculture training is helping to solve this problem. It is life-saving and life-changing!

HHI does many things well. They are listed as a four-star charity on Charity Navigator. You can go their website and get a full overview on all of their many programs and see exactly how any donations are used. In this podcast, I’m just going to talk about one aspect of their program: the agricultural component. Ever since I first wrote an article about HHI, I’ve been fascinated by the way they work to discover the needs of a community and find practical, sustainable solutions to help meet those needs. The agriculture program empowers communities to fight hunger by providing instruction on basic gardening techniques that can be used even in drought prone areas.

I had the opportunity to interview David Goolsby multiple times when he worked with HHI as the director of international agricultural development and relief. Part of his responsibilities included designing workshops and vocational education to teach community leaders around the world how to help fight the devastating hunger overwhelming many areas. He taught communities to work together to build an efficient and lasting agricultural economy to provide for their own needs by practicing simple sustainable technologies.

“We teach participants to start a garden with minimum resources. For successful gardening we focus on simplicity, affordability, sustainability and practicality. We want to make sure a widow with five small children can tend her garden. People with more resources can adapt what we teach to their circumstances,” said David Goolsby in a 2009 interview.

One method for successful agricultural development Goolsby passed on in his training programs involves a drip irrigation system using simple materials easy to provide to communities around the world. After the first ten farmers went through the training in 1999 and the first fruits of this method became evident by early 2000, a nationwide interest in drip irrigation grew all across Ethiopia. As a result of drip irrigation and survival garden training, families were able to provide more than enough food to sustain them and to share amongst their communities. Thousands of people started to use this method of gardening in Ethiopia and in several other neighboring and regional African countries as well.

The HHI website (hhi.org) has a video to show how to create a drip irrigation system. It teaches families and farmers how to grow vegetables during their dry season. The video shows gardeners how to place drip lines on raised gardening beds to ensure that each plant receives sufficient water. The gardeners are encouraged to use materials they already have available in their communities along with items supplied by HHI. Buckets or barrels placed on a raised stand are connected to the drip lines on the raised beds. A hole is drilled into the bottom of the bucket and connectors are used to secure the drip lines. Various groups help to provide the connectors to gardeners in each area. A cloth over the top of the bucket filters material that may clog the lines from the water. One raised bed can produce enough food to feed a family of five to seven people during the dry season. Extra beds can produce food available to sell at the market or to help sustain other community members.

HHI has worked with people in Haiti since 2013 through sustainable agricultural workshops. During the first workshop, 75 farmers learned how to turn a rocky field into raised planting beds with a compost trench and drip irrigation.

The HHI team has shared many stories of success that can be found on the website.

  • In May of 2011, HHI staff and volunteers traveled to Kayenta, AZ to teach the lifesaving skills of survival gardening and food preservation to families of the Navajo Nation. The “hands-on” workshop taught the use of a drip irrigation kit, composting and seed transplanting.
  • In 2002, Malawi was suffering from years of famine and a growing AIDS epidemic. Orphaned children were dying of disease and starvation and the livestock and crops were decimated. HHI’s Agricultural Director, David Goolsby, traveled to the country to train local farmers in survival gardening techniques. As he taught them he encouraged them to go out and train other farmers in these same techniques. From that initial trip grew a first-of-its-kind operation in Africa. David eventually spent seven months helping more than 200 local workers build the Madalitso (Blessings) Food Plant. The plant turns corn and soybean crops grown by the local farmers into VitaMeal, a vitamin fortified flour that is purchased by Feed the Children and Nourish the Children.
  • In 2008, Dr. Willa Finley, knowledgeable in agriculture and nutrition, Brenda McVey, a missionary in Ghana for more than 20 years, Eleni Melirrytos, a seasoned cook and gifted public speaker, Janice Goolsby, with more than 20 years of experience in food preservation, and Alisa Merritt Van Dyke, the youngest of the group, boarded a plane to Maiduguri, Nigeria. Their mission was new and simple, teach women the skills of food preservation techniques and empower them to bless their families and communities. This project was inspired by a Muslim woman, one of the few women to attend a drip irrigation workshop held by HHI the previous year. She made the comment that it would be useful to the women of her country to learn ways to better preserve and prepare food for their families. From this initial workshop to date, hundreds of women have been trained in food preservation skills. Not only has HHI been able to touch these women’s lives, but many of them are going back to their community and training others, spreading the knowledge they have learned!

HHI workshops teach sustainable food production and preservation skills to those struggling to feed their families. Over the course of two days, trainees are taught survival gardening techniques using drip irrigation, raised garden beds, composting and mulching, seed transplanting and basic garden management. After completing the workshop attendees are given a drip irrigation kit to take with them back to their communities to start their own gardens. HHI also holds workshops that teach methods for drying and preserving food, often in conjunction with the food production workshop.

I think I’m fascinated by this project for many reasons. First, it’s so practical. People need food. What better way to support a community than starting with something so basic as making sure they are fed. Second, because it is sustainable and manageable after the HHI teams leave the area. This work doesn’t leave a community dependent upon outside resources. True, this agricultural work doesn’t solve all of their problems. They may still need fresh water to drink or medical assistance (by the way, HHI has other teams to step in and address these issues), but food is a great way to start.

Third, this work is done with the local people in the community. The HHI teams work with existing leaders or farmers or families to teach them the details about what needs to be done and empowers them to then become teachers themselves.

So what’s our challenge for this week? Let’s find some really practical ways that we can use our knowledge and our resources to help someone. Identify ways that you can mentor someone who can then go forward to be a mentor for someone else. We can change communities one person at a time.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

Podcast Episode: Dorothy Day House

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

Dorothy Day House Memphis

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about some people who are changing the lives of homeless families—specifically I’m going to talk about the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality in Memphis.

First, however, I’m going to give you a short history of the woman the organization is named for. Dorothy Day was an American journalist, social activist, and Catholic convert. She was born in New York in 1897 and was the 3rdchild to Grace and John Day. Her father was a sportswriter and moved his family to San Francisco in 1904 when he took a job with a newspaper there. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 destroyed the paper’s facilities there, and he lost his job, but out of that tragedy, Dorothy saw acts of kindness by her mother and their neighbors who all stepped up to help others during this crisis in their city. Those self-sacrificing acts planted the seeds in Dorothy Day’s mind that would later lead her to help others in times of need.

Her passion for bringing change to what seemed like desperate situations led her to become part of a circle of social radicals and literary types like Eugene O’Neill during World War I. Eventually she faced jail time for her actions in 1917 when she and a group of suffragettes were demonstrating at the White House in favor of giving women voting rights.

Though Day’s parents were not deeply religiously, they did have some ties to Christianity. It’s said, though, that Day rejected religion because she did not see people who worshipped regularly doing anything to serve the people in need. Day eventually embraced the Catholic faith and admired the Catholic church for being “the Church of the poor.”  In 1926, Day gave birth to her daughter Tamar and faced life as a single mother as she worked as a freelance journalist. Her decision to have her daughter baptized and embrace the Catholic faith led to the end of her common law marriage and the loss of many of her radical friends.

In 1932, when she was covering the Hunger March in Washington, D.C., she prayed that some way would open up for her to serve the poor and unemployed. The next day she met Peter Maurin. They worked together to start the “Catholic Worker” newspaper which spawned a movement of houses of hospitality and farming communes that has since been replicated throughout the nation and in other countries.

You can read more about her life in a book by her granddaughter Kate Hennessy titled Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty. Her life story is fascinating, and I’m just giving you a glimpse of all of the work she did for others during her lifetime. But know that she spent her entire life trying to make a difference in this world—trying to help bring hope to others.

That’s what the Dorothy Day House in Memphis does today. The mission of the Dorothy Day House is to keep homeless families together as they are struggling to try to get back on their feet and regain some hope financially.

We know that people can become homeless for many reasons: lost jobs or under-employment, overwhelming medical bills or other unplanned for expenses, or generational poverty. Being homeless is traumatic for everyone involved. Adding to the stress of the situation, however, is the design of many typical shelters. When families are trying to get out of the heat or cold and find a safe place to rest, they often have to separate. Many shelters only allow one gender to be housed on site, so fathers have to leave daughters and wives; mothers have to leave sons and husbands. This separation means that they aren’t together to try to work through possible solutions to their financial challenges.

The Dorothy Day house steps in whenever possible and offers a safe place for families to live together so they can stay strong as a family unit and support each other as they work to move forward and overcome the obstacles hindering them because of their poverty.

So, what does this living situation look like? The parents and children now have a home-like atmosphere—they have a sense of security—and in this place, they all have responsibilities such as helping to clean the house and prepare meals. The organization has two houses, serving three families in each house.

Their second house opened in May 2018 and is named in memory of Loretta Garland, a woman who lived in the Dorothy Day House with her teenage son. They became homeless because the factory Loretta worked in for 20 years closed with no warning. While at the house, Loretta got a new job at FedEx and was just about to move out when she died suddenly of a stroke on April 15, 2013.

The families at the Dorothy Day House are very diverse. The organization serves families of different sizes, ages, religions, and ethnicities. As I mentioned earlier, many things can cause sudden homelessness: a house fire, the death or sudden absence of the main wage earner, the expense of medical bills, a car accident or other unexpected circumstances.

Today, almost half of American families live paycheck to paycheck. Any setback can cause serious financial challenges with long-term effects. We also have to understand the effects of generational poverty. Many parents don’t have the emotional, mental or physical tools needed to make changes for their families and pull themselves out of poverty. Dorothy Day understood this in her time. Many people don’t have support systems in place to help move them out of a crisis situation and into a stable living situation. Dorothy Day reminded us that we were called to love others. She said, though, that we had to get over our fear of others in order to get close enough to love them.

The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality is loving families and bringing them hope. The organization is funded by private donations from individuals. Donors give annually, as needed for projects, or on a monthly-basis. Each gift, of any amount, is important to the sustainability of the ministry. The Dorothy Day House depends entirely on monetary and in-kind donations from private donors and charitable organizations. We receive no federal, state, or local assistance.

Their website—dorothydaymemphis.org—lists the specific needs they have at any particular time. Sometimes they need diapers if they are serving families with infants; sometimes they need shoes of a specific size or maybe clothes or furniture. Their Facebook page also keeps donors updated on specific needs. And of course, cash is always appreciated.

When I was in interim children’s director at a local church, I was filling in over a summer and decided to use some of our monetary donations from our VBS program to support the home. I met Sister Maureen Griner who is the Executive Director and part of their ministry team to families. I was able to hear more of the stories of the hope that this organization brings to our community. It’s truly an inspiring organization with volunteers who mentor the kids and cook meals and step in to help deep clean at times.

Here are a few of the ways the Dorothy Day house staff, volunteers and support agencies in the community serve the families in their care—they provide:

  • Food, clothing, and shelter
  • Educational resources and guidance
  • Parenting skills
  • Employment counseling
  • Prospective job contacts
  • Transportation
  • Referrals for child care
  • Financial and budgeting advice
  • Counseling and case management services
  • Advocacy and mentoring
  • Access to sources of permanent housing
  • New personal relationships which provide a system of healthy support and encouragement for the future.

The first family moved into the Dorothy Day house is 2006. This ministry is still expanding.

Here’s your challenge for the week: look around your community and find organizations that have a similar mission. See if you can locate groups working to keep homeless family members together. Help get their story out in your community—share their social media posts or show up at events that are fundraisers for that organization.

Fighting homelessness takes a team effort, but we can help bring hope and change to families trying to overcome poverty. A safe home makes a difference.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

Podcast Episode: The Jasmine Center

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about something a little different. In past episodes, I have talked about community groups and nonprofit groups that have been in existence for several years. I could give you a little history on the organization and a glimpse of their programs.

A few weeks ago, though, I ran into a woman and overheard her conversation about her plans for a new nonprofit organization. Now, remember that I’m a writer…being a writer means I’m always listening when I’m out in public. It’s how I learn new things about my community, about people around me, about our world.  I stop listening if I realize that people are talking about something extremely personal, but if I’m around people just chatting about life or work or interests, I love to look busy and keep listening.

In this instance, I decided to confess to the woman that I was eavesdropping. I introduced myself and gave her my contact information. I told her I would love to hear more about the project she was working on. I’m glad she was willing to check out my website and see that I wasn’t crazy. And she was willing to answer questions for me.

I wanted to know more about how an organization that aims to serve our community gets a start—how do you tackle large societal issues such as homelessness, poverty, and abuse when you are starting with just a vision? Here’s what I learned from a woman named Timishia Ortiz who is the founder and CEO of The Jasmine Center in Memphis, Tennessee. And please forgive me if my “Southernness” is mispronouncing her beautiful name.

Ortiz was graciously open to sharing her life story, so we can glimpse her background and see the perspective she is coming from when she had the vision to start The Jasmine Center. She was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, to a father who was a radiologist and a mother who was a stay-at-home parent. When she lost her dad at age seven to heart disease, her mother relocated the family to Memphis.

Ortiz’s life changed when she had to face the pain of domestic abuse in her own marriage. She faced a very rocky divorce while living in Nashville. Now many of you may not understand how challenging it can be for mothers to maneuver though Tennessee’s court system. The process takes an enormous emotional and financial toll on the people going through the courts. Nothing is easy even when you are the victim. In Tennessee, court costs and lawyer fees add up quickly. I can tell you that from personal experience. As so often happens, Ortiz and her children were homeless for a time. When she first left in order to be safe, she and her children stayed in a hotel for a few days. But she was a stay-at-home mother without income to sustain a long stay in a hotel.

When Ortiz tried to reach out to an agency for temporary government assistance, the woman assisting her with the paperwork asked for an address. When Ortiz gave a hotel address, the woman then declared that Ortiz and her children were homeless. That was a reality she had trouble naming or accepting. She used what little funds she had left to get to Memphis where her mother and brother lived. Unfortunately, neither had the resources to help her financially. Actually, her mother was being evicted from the house she was staying in because she was unable to keep up the rental payments. So, Ortiz felt truly homeless.

Here’s a quote from Ortiz…some information that she shared with me in her own words: “In the midst of these troubles, I was rushed to the hospital to give birth to my second child. God set up a miraculous breakthrough for us. We discovered that my deceased dad’s sister relocated (to Memphis) from Atlanta, Georgia. When she heard our dire circumstances, she immediately helped us in getting a place. While going through those turbulent times, I ran into other moms who had been homeless over an extended period of time. After their stay in shelters of 30-90 days, these families still had no place to go, sometimes had no skills to be productive, no resources to help their children…these moms were left with more hopelessness, no support, and a chance to be next on the waiting list for another homeless program. This gave me the drive and determination to PUSH until something new was birthed.”

Ortiz used her challenges in life to find new strength and a strong faith. She used that strength and faith not just to help herself and her kids, but to also reach out and help others. Here’s what she has to say about The Jasmine Center:

“The Jasmine Center is a social service industry with a strategic goal of reducing homelessness, crime, poor education, and unemployment in the city of Memphis. Estimations of poverty take into account the average household income, home value, the percent below the federally recognized poverty line and the overall unemployment rate. For all it’s apparent conveniences and perks, city living has never been easy or inexpensive. TJC wants to break the cycle of poverty so prevalent in single households that are caught up in the cycle of unemployment, domestic violence, crime, and incarceration by endeavoring to equip and empower individuals to live life with God, and to help them make the changes necessary to live an abundant and purposeful life. It is our desire to connect the families including any absent fathers with valuable resources, one-on-one mentoring through local church leadership, and counseling services. Our program is designed to develop relationships with the families in order to facilitate a transition from homelessness to a safe stable place to live.”

Now in her wisdom, Ortiz knew she couldn’t do this alone. She found a mentor named Mark Yates, president and CEO of Life Enhancement Services.  She also pulled together an advisory board. Here’s what she said about that process: “I began to think of leaders that enjoyed helping others. The more I talked about my story and my vision for the Center the more like-minded people I found. They would always say to me, ‘Wow, I wish I could help.’ There was my open door for recruitment. I started out with two medical physicians on my Board of Directors then it expanded from there.”

She also applied to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in May 2018. She admits that she wishes she had known beforehand how extensive this process was. Ideally, she now realizes she should have applied for that designation earlier in the process. But we all have things to learn when we are being courageous enough to follow a vision. And when we are strong enough to admit what we didn’t know, we can help educate others following in our footsteps.

So what’s next for The Jasmine Center? The team has built a website (thejasminecenter.com) and is looking for an actual location to offer housing for those in need.

“I am currently in the process of obtaining a place,” said Ortiz, “with the gracious help of realtor Timothy Smith with Jasco Realty and Mary Sharp of 32 years with Remax. They’ve been working expeditiously with finding affordable apartment style units for our expected families in need. I project to have a secure place before the end of 2018.”

The Jasmine Center isn’t sitting by idly while waiting for the housing. The team members are currently working to make connections within the community so they can work together with existing agencies to tackle the problems of abuse, poverty, and homelessness. They are currently involved in a collaborative effort with The Family Safety Center. They decided to make survivor kits for their victims of domestic violence.

What has been her biggest challenge in founding The Jasmine Center?

“My biggest challenge,” she admits, “was not allowing fear to stop me and coming up with the money to get it started. The next biggest challenge was preparing a feasible budget.”

In this podcast, I introduce you to a lot of nonprofit organizations working to make changes in their communities. Some of you ask how a person decides if they should share resources in support of these groups? Well, I suggest just being wise. Look at their websites and talk to their board members. Do your research as you would with any investment—and donating time or money to a nonprofit group is an investment in your community—in our world.

I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for The Jasmine Center. I hope you follow their story. I admire the determination of Timishia Ortiz and respect her desire to make a difference in the lives of others. I appreciate her willingness and courage to honestly share her story.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

Podcast Episode: Thistle Farms Cafe

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

 

Transcript:

Honestly, the Café wasn’t what I originally planned to talk about today, but then I saw their Facebook post this morning and they made me really, really hungry. Since I can’t get to the Café for a few weeks to eat there, I decided to just change the order of my podcasts and talk about them.

Thistle Farms Café is located in Nashville, Tennessee, located along West Nashville’s revitalized Charlotte Pike corridor, and is tied into the Thistle Farms complex with their headquarters and social enterprise facilities. Thistle Farms is a nonprofit organization that lives out the idea that “love heals” through all of their projects. The organization was founded by Reverend Becca Stevens twenty years ago and serves to offer a place of hope and healing to women survivors of prostitution, sex trafficking and addiction. Stevens, who was honored in 2017 as a CNN Hero, wanted to offer women a way out.

Thistle Farms now has 5 residential communities in Nashville where women can stay for two years at no cost. The women support each other through the healing process. The organization grew from just being a residential program, however, when Stevens and the residents started making bath and body products. That aspect of the program grew into a $2 million company with more than 75 employees—2/3s of whom are graduates of the residential program. Their products are ow sold in certain retail stores worldwide.

So, you can see that this is truly a life-changing program. It changed Stevens’ life. You can read more about her story on the Thistle Farms website (https://thistlefarms.org) or through the CNN Heroes project from 2017. She has also written several books, with the latest being titled Love Heals. It was released in September 2017 and shares the principles of the organization that have transformed individual lives and really the community as a whole. I was honored to interview Stevens for a Southern Writers Magazine article about this book and I can tell you that she is a truly inspiring person. Her genuine love for the women and the communities she serves is very evident. She lives by the belief that love does heal.

So, you have the residential program and the manufacturing and products aspect of Thistle Farms, but Stevens and her fantastic team didn’t stop dreaming there. They wanted a place to invite the community into and spread their love and share their principles of healing. In a StyleBluePrint article by Kay West titled “The Café at Thistle Farms: Renewed, Repaired & Ready to Serve,” West quotes Stevens as saying that she first had a simple plan of just a tea shop next to their shop, but it turned into a completely different thing.

And this different thing is what made me so hungry today. I did a quick morning check of my social media sites and there it was: the picture of the black bean quinoa veggie burger with roasted carrot aioli, pickled onions, lettuce and tomato on a house-made butternut squash bun. That’s all I could think about today. It’s on my list now to make another trip to the Café as soon as I can, and I hope it’s on a day when I can eat something on a homemade butternut squash bun.

On my first visit to the Café earlier this year, my teen and I each devoured one of their herbed chicken salad sandwiches on a croissant. They came with a homemade pickle and chips. Even the fruit tea was delicious.

So, you get amazing food here and you are supporting a cause that’s very close to my heart. If you are lucky enough to be there for breakfast, you can choose between menu items such as fresh buttermilk pancakes, a quiche, a yogurt bowl with fruit and local honey, and a breakfast biscuit with local farm eggs, Sweetwater buttermilk cheddar, pesto mayo, and bacon or sausage.

Is your mouth watering yet? Follow the Café at Thistle Farms on Facebook and you’ll be treated to photos like I saw this morning that show their daily specials or some of their more regular menu items such as a grilled cheese and avocado sandwich, a pesto chicken wrap, or their homegrown BLT. Their salads are just as scrumptious as their sandwiches. And let’s definitely don’t forget their house-made pastries and dessert treats. I’m a Southern girl who loves to have a sweet treat after a meal.

For a special treat, make a reservation for one of the afternoon teas served daily between 1 and 3 p.m. You can check their website for current pricing a reservation information.

So, you can see why Thistle Farms and the Café have a special place in my heart. Yes, they have amazing products in their shop and incredible food in the Café, but more than that, they are looking to see the women in the community who needed hope. Stevens and her team take the time to know their names and their stories. And then they love them because it is love that heals the deepest wounds that we too often fail to even see.

The thistle is the symbol for the organization because it represents the truth of so many lives—the thistle is resilient—it grows in the dirt and dust beside the roads that so many women have had to walk to survive. The thistle is strong—tough—and beautiful all at the same time. That’s what Stevens saw in the women she has worked so hard to serve—a strength and a beauty that others failed to recognize.

Café General Manager Courtney Johnson Sobieralski started volunteering at Thistle Farms after graduating MTSU. She eventually oversaw the construction of Café, which had to be renovated after a roof collapse in 2016. When the Café opened in 2013, it started with basically just tea and coffee service with not much else available until the following year when they acquired a little more space and equipment and added soup and a few basic sandwiches.

With the remodel in 2016, they added a full commercial kitchen and an entirely new menu. The Café sources its fresh, produce-driven food and beverage offerings from a variety of Middle Tennessee farmers and makers. The Café is definitely cozy with an inviting atmosphere that gives you a moment to catch your breath. And while you are doing that, stop and remember the love poured into each meal. Love poured in by the founder and the entire team who dreamed up the idea and believed in it enough to make it a reality. Love poured in by the women in recovery who are working to make the café a success and turn their lives around. They start their days with meditation and a time to give thanks.

I’m thankful for this nonprofit organization that offers hope and love to so many people. I think of it every time I wear my love heals hat I got from the shop next door to the café. And I’m definitely thankful that I can plan a road trip soon to get back there and eat another homemade meal that I’m sure will be delicious. Until then, I’ll just have to imagine what it’s like from the Facebook posts.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed the podcast and will return for the next episode.