When Moms Get It Right

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.

**

When Moms Get It Right

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 a group of Moms I have been privileged to meet—some in person and some just online through a closed Facebook group.

Now, if you’re one of my followers, you have probably noticed that I haven’t created a new podcast in quite some time…almost two months. So why today? I waited for this moment because I had a lot to process during this time about what’s going on in the world around me and what I really want to represent here on my podcast. I chose today to reappear because it’s the last day of June—the last day of Pride Month. Many people who are in the LGBTQ community and many who are allies have marched in parades this month, attended festivals, and honored the past heroes who have stood courageously for the rights of all people.

I’m not going to go into much history about Pride here—you can look that up and find many wonderful articles doing that already. I’m going to talk about some Moms who are really working to bring love to all people during Pride month and every day of the year.

I’ll give you a short history of my involvement with Pride parades and festivals…short because my involvement is short. In the early 1990s, my cousin whom I loved dearly died of AIDS. I went to Key West to perform his funeral because at the time, no one wanted to have anything to do with AIDS patients. They were all told they deserved to die because of who they were—mostly gay men at the time. So, I went to Key West and honored my cousin and his friends. Not really an official Pride moment, but it was a form of resistance for me because I was defying the major religious groups I was associated with and I shocked many of my friends by standing with these men facing the AIDS epidemic.

My second moment I remember was wearing a rainbow Pride pin around campus when a group of students protested having a female Episcopal priest who was openly married to a woman preach at our chapel service. A vocal group of students demanded that she be blocked from speaking and demanded that LGBTQ students face some consequence if they were open about their identity. Several students decided to openly wear Pride pins to show that they were not ashamed of who they were. Several of us decided to walk with them as an ally for the day. It felt like the right thing to do.

Fast forward 25 years later and find me at my first Pride parade—nothing in between—no show of support or really even thinking about anything significant as far as rights of the LGBTQ community. I had other things on my mind and just didn’t step up in any way.

So why my first Pride in 2018? Because I went to support my own son. He was courageous enough to come out and I had a choice to make. I could stand with my son and love my son and fully support my son, or we could forever lose the bond that we had. Before Pride, I messaged a Mom who is a minister and had made a post about offering resources to anyone who needed information about supporting the LGBTQ community. She serves an affirming church and was willing to connect me with an online group of Moms.

The group I first joined was Serendipitydodah for Moms. Here’s the official description of the group: This is a private Facebook group exclusively for moms of LGBTQ kids. The group was started in June 2014 and as of December 2018 there are more than 5,000 members. Each day moms of LGBTQ kids gather to share a journey that is unique and often very difficult. The group is a place where members share a lot of information, ask questions, support one another, learn a lot and brag on their kids. The official motto is “Better Together” and the members call themselves “Mama Bears.” An incredibly strong and loving woman named Liz Dyer moderates the group. I can give her name because she openly invites others to join and speaks publicly about the group. No other names or personal information will be shared.

What’s the first thing I felt when I joined the group—acceptance—no judgment. I could ask questions; I could research; I could openly learn from the Moms in the group. These Moms talked openly about their children of all ages—how much they loved them—how much we as parents had to learn—and how much we worry because so many people hate our children just because of who they are—who they were created to be.

The next thing I felt was community. This is a page where we can share our joys that we don’t feel free to share elsewhere because of potential negative comments from non-affirming friends or family members. Wedding pictures—baby announcements—new friends—new support groups—transitions for our transgender kids—prom photos—engagements—prayer requests. These are all things other parents get to be more open about. But if we share online, our bosses may fire us, our friends may scold us, and our family members may distance themselves from us over our joys…so we share with each other and cry and celebrate and love.

The next thing I felt was a Holy presence. Many of the moms are religious and struggle with being told that we are wrong for loving our children. Our faith communities ask us to be silent, or to find conversion therapies, or pray that our kids won’t really be gay or trans or queer. But we study Scripture together and pray together and find the presence of God in our midst—the very God who created our kids and loves them and is teaching us how to parent them.

I soon connected with another amazing nonprofit group called Free Mom Hugs. Since 2014, Sara Cunningham, who is the executive director, and many other parents of the LGBTQ community have joined in the fight for human rights of equality for all. Free Mom Hugs is a registered nonprofit organization made up of parents and allies who love the LGBTQ+ community unconditionally and are working toward full affirmation and equality for all. We are dedicated to educating families, church and civic leaders, encouraging them to not only affirm the value of the LGBTQ+ community but celebrate them.

This is who I walked with at my first Pride in my hometown. I gave out free hugs to all who needed one and found so much love and community there at the event. It broke my heart to see young people needing hugs because they were rejected by their own families. This year I marched in my state capital’s Pride parade with both of my children. My daughter joined in as an ally. I stood with a large group of other Moms and hugged as many people as I could. I was also privileged to stand in as an honorary Mom at a wedding this year because one member of the wedding party wasn’t accepted by his family.

So, all of this make it sounds like this podcast is about me—no, it’s about the LGBTQ community and how far we still have to go to grant equality in this nation. It’s about serving wedding cakes and Moms being allowed to show the wedding photos. It’s about not being fired because you are gay. It’s about being allowed to serve even if you are transgender. It’s about no person being attacked or killed because of who they are. It’s about remembering that the first Pride was a riot because of police brutality. It’s about the long line of people that have been hurt because of religious people declaring them unworthy.

My silence though the years allowed all of this discrimination to continue. These two groups of Moms have given me the courage to speak out and to love and to find hope for all people. There is no pride for me in all that I failed to say—didn’t do. For the people I never fought for and spoke up with. I’m so glad the LGBTQ community has never given up the fight even when so many of us stayed silent.

I’m silent no more. I’m a proud Mama Bear giving free mom hugs. See you at the next Pride Parade…Happy Pride Month…Happy World Pride.

You are loved…be courageous…be strong…be you….

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

Advertisements

You Are

When a General Conference tries to tell you otherwise, remember:

 

 

You Are

you

you are

it’s who you are…

you are love…you are loved…

you are seen…

your funny smile when you are

up to a little mischief…

your hand movements

when you are anxious…

your downward glance

when you know you have been judged…

your amazing artwork that hangs in your home…

your quick steps when you are excited…

your huge grin when you surprise someone

with a gift always perfectly chosen…

you are invaluable…we all need…

your ability to light up a room with your smile…

your talent when you play

the saxophone with the band…

your ability to handle a

complex accounting problem

without feeling stressed…

your compassion when you

sit with a dying hospice patient…

your hope when you wait for answers with a friend…

your patience when you teach in the schools…

your style when you dance across the stage…

your creativity and vision

when you design and invent and build and plan…

you are heard…

your laughter when it fills a room…

your voice when you speak out against injustice…

your song when it heals a broken heart…

your call to others when they lose hope…

your statement when you testify to truth…

you are queer…trans…gay…bi…lesbian

you are pan…asexual…questioning…straight…

you are young…old…

you are male…female…you are nonbinary…

you are black…white…

one of a thousand shades between…

you are Hispanic…European…

you are Asian…African…American

you are an islander…a native…

you are an immigrant…a refugee

you are a blend of people who came before…

you are love…you are loved

it’s who you are

you are

you

–Chris Pepple ©2019

The Teens I Know

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.

**

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 a group of people that I know quite well because I’m a Mom. I’m going to talk about teenagers. Go ahead and laugh…what a crazy subject, right?

But teens truly play an important role in our society. We see them speaking out on many social and political issues. We see them taking a stand in their communities, stepping up and volunteering in local, national and international organizations, and developing new products that have the potential to truly save lives.

So, teens are definitely worth looking to see. I’m not going to talk about teens in general, though. I’m going to talk about some teens that have become very special to me because they are friends with my son.

They are amazing teens in my eyes, but they are also very average as teenagers go. They are very “normal” in so many ways—they need a lot of snacks, like caffeine in a variety of forms (coffee, sodas, etc.,)—are constantly either moving, talking, or napping—they know a lot about fashion, but their choices in clothes for the day often reflect comfy rather than trendy. Some of them aced the ACT, and some of them struggled with it. Some of them can work any math problem you hand them, and some of them avoid math as much as possible. There are both readers and writers, artists and comedians in the group. The shy ones surprise me at times when they are laughing and talking as much as the others. The more social ones surprise me at times with their reflectiveness. You know what I’m talking about if you are around teens much.

I’m not around these teens a lot, but I have gotten to know them through some time spent around a local community group and through my son. They’ve been over to the house for a crazy camp out. They’ve bowed for applause together in local plays. They’ve let me know who is vegan and who can’t have dairy and who eats gluten free. I know who needs a ride from time to time and who is always late. I know a few of the Moms and a couple of Dads.

So, ok, teenagers…is this group of people really worth a podcast episode. To me they are. Why? Because so many in this group are misunderstood in today’s society. I’m speaking for the ones that aren’t currently being heard. I’m an ally for this group of kids… this group of transgender teens.

Yes, you heard me correctly…transgender teens. Being a life-long learner, I have been reading everything I can about the transgender community and individuals who walk among us who have declared that they are no longer living as the gender assigned to them at birth.

When I first started to learn about what it truly means to be transgender, I found a lot of misinformation. So, how do I know it’s misinformation? Well, I’m currently teaching a critical writing class to teens. In the class, I teach the students how to identify accurate sources when doing research on a topic. I tell them to look and see the credentials of the person sharing the information. Do they work in the field you are researching? Do they represent an organization that works in the field you are researching? Do they offer actual data instead of opinions? Do they give you the sources of their data—sources you can then verify yourself? Are the sources professional sources in the field?

Why does all of this matter? Well, let me give you an example before I go back and talk more about the teens. Any emotional person connected to an event is certainly qualified to give you their opinion … an eyewitness to a tragedy, a grieving parent, a victim. We need to hear their stories. I don’t ever want to silence anyone. I read many blogs and follow many sites that offer personal accounts on a variety of topics. However, most of the posts that I read are just that…personal, emotional accounts. They teach me a lot about human experiences and perspectives, and I certainly grow a lot because I read them.

However, if that’s all I read about a topic, then I am possibly missing a lot of information. For example, I listened to a college student talk about the trauma of being raped on her college campus. I was able to glimpse the emotional pain she still carried with her. I read posts by a Mom whose teen has faced cancer and had her life forever altered by the damage caused by the very chemo that saved her life. I had no idea how long the effects from chemo could last.

But if I stop by reading these two posts, I certainly am not qualified to make a statement about rape on campuses or about surviving childhood cancer. If I want to really understand these issues, I need to dig further and go to professionals in the field and find verifiable statistics about rape on campuses and about lifelong effects of some life-saving cancer treatments. I have to read data from professionals in the law enforcement field, in the victims’ advocacy field. I have to find medical professionals writing about childhood cancers.

I go to the sources to gain a deeper understanding of the issue. It’s not that I don’t believe the personal accounts…actually, it’s just the opposite. I believe the people I listened to and want to educate myself on the issue so I can better understand how to support these individuals and how to respond to them with compassion and how to help bring about changes that may benefit others. What would bring about change? What groups should I support to bring about change? what research can I donate to? What family support groups can I volunteer with or donate to?

So why am I telling you all of this before I talk about transgender teens? Because we base a lot of our beliefs about transgender people on emotional testimony alone and on misinformation that stems from those statements. Many people aren’t looking at the information from medical professionals, psychologists, or professional organizations that work with transgender people. We are taking information from a religious source alone or from an individual who says they personally thought they were transgender but really weren’t, trying to lead us all to believe, therefore, that no one is really transgender.

So, first, I met some wonderful transgender teens through a community group in my hometown. I’m guessing I knew transgender people in my past, but none that were open about their lives. I heard rumors about people, but I never asked questions or tried to engage anyone. I stayed in my own little safe world and minded my own business, which is what I was taught was the best way to live as a Southern woman.

Even when I had a family die of AIDS in 1993, no one close to me talked very openly about the LGBTQ community. Then I made a few friends while getting my master’s degree who were part of the LGBTQ community…people who were fun to be around, good students to study with, loyal friends. I babysat for some single mothers who also happened to be lesbians who had adopted children. These women were such amazingly good moms and were mentors to me in some ways as I struggled with an abusive marriage and so much confusion around what my career path would be.

But, really, after I graduated, I retreated back into my own world of church life and family struggles and eventually children of my own.

But then I opened my eyes and opened my heart and realized that I was going to miss out on knowing some wonderful people if I turned my back on someone just because they are different than me.

What I loved most about these kids I met was how much grace they showed me as I was learning about what it means to them to be transgender. If you are caring and respectful to this group I met, they will return that respect.

So here’s a few things I learned. I’m not going to quote all of the sources here. I’ll try to link to some when I post this on my WordPress blog. I’ll mention my sources here, of course, because I don’t believe conversations can occur without people quoting from reliable sources that can be cross checked by others in the conversation.

  • I’ve learned that science tells us that people are born transgender. This isn’t some new trend to come out and change your identity. There’s a lot of researchthat states that hormone levels of the mother can affect the gender identity of the child. Science also tells us that our “outside” sex organs develop early—by the end of the first trimester. Brain sexuality isn’t developed until the end of the second or the beginning of the third trimester. There are differences in our brain structure that direct our gender identity—our internal sense of whether we are a boy or a girl. Gender isn’t defined just by our visible sex organs. Gender involves our sex chromosomes, internal sex organs, outside parts, hormones, and brain sexuality. This is just a quick bit of information offered here, but you can find Harvard research studies and many othersthat back this up.
  • I’ve learned that Judaism—even in ancient times—recognizes at least five genders. There are even six genders in the Jewish Mishnah and Talmud. God created day and night (and many times between–dawn, dusk, high noon, darkest midnight, and lands that see days and nights stretch on for months at a time); God created land and water (and many forms between–marshy areas, quicksand, swamps, deserts, ocean floors); God created male and female (and many gender expressions between).
  • I’ve learned that many transgender children are now being vocalabout who they are at a very early age.
  • I’m not going into Scripture here or sexuality in depth because sexual identity is different from gender identity, but you can read a book titled Unclobberedthat goes into depth about our misuse of the Bible on the topic of homosexuality. Oh, I also learned that the word homosexual wasn’t in the Bible until a translation in 1946. In Corinthians, the word we translate as homosexual technically translates as “soft man” and in other places in the Bible this is translated as “a soft man who has not earned his place, but has inherited his wealth without working hard and still doesn’t work hard.” There are only six verses that we today translate as anything to do with being gay, and two are in Leviticus. None of us live by Leviticus. It’s a sin to eat any shellfish, it’s a sin to be in the room with a woman menstruating, Leviticus calls for all debts to be forgiven every Jubilee year. We can’t wear woven cloth made from two types of fabric—so all of our clothes purchased in stores that aren’t pure cotton are sinful according to Leviticus.

 

Why tell you this? Because we are doing serious harm in our nation when we misunderstand gender identity. I have walked past signs telling transgender teens they are going to hell. I have read too many news stories about bullying and high suicide rates among the transgender community. People are murdered just because they are transgender. And people fear them just because they don’t have information to understand.

These teens I’ve gotten to know are amazing. They are smart and strong and funny and talented and loyal to each other and compassionate and leaders and also just teens. They are beautifully and wonderfully made. Let’s look to see the transgender people in our communities. Have a meal with a teen. Go see a play by a queer theater group. Read books such as Becoming Nicole; Being Jazz; Transgender History; or Redefining Realness.

Let’s don’t cause harm to others just because we don’t understand someone with a different identity than our own. Let’s don’t fear what we don’t understand. Instead, reach out and look to see the reality of others. I’m glad I have.

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: 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.

**

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.

**

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.