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Sunday, May 7, 2017

12 pounds of energy

On the chilly, rainy night of December 2nd of this past year, I decided that it was time to bring some more life into the house.   I officially adopted Jasmine and Grace.   How did I end up with these two mischievous little furballs?   It was an easy decision for me.   I kept my question for the Summit Humane Society pretty simple.  “Who’s been tough to adopt and needs a home?”   
Coming home, but not real sure about all of this
These two cats have an interesting story.   They were brought to the Summit Humane Society when they were only 3 weeks old or so.   Both of them had severe upper respiratory infections also.   As kittens, they spent most of the time getting poked, prodded, tested, or having yucky medicines given to them.   Because of this, they look at humans as giant needle sticking, disgusting medicine giving monsters.   By the time they were healthy enough to go up for adoption, they were no longer cute kittens, but now cats.    
Not only were they not the cute and cuddly furballs, but they were scared of humans.   The caretakers at the Humane Society did wonderful things for the girls, but Jazzy and Grace aren’t really so sure of that though.   People would come in, hang out in the visiting room with the girls, and they would just hide in the corner.   It’s this unfortunate reaction that made most people say “I’m just not feeling it with these two”.   
When I started to think about adopting cats again, I started to think about what type of cat I wanted.   What their personality would be like and how they would interact with me.   I looked back to a cat that I had for 13 years before named Rocket.   She was amazing.   She always greeted me at the door.   She was always ready for dinnertime.   She was always by my side.   “Yes….that’s what I want again!”
I realized that is the cat that everyone wants.   That is the cat that gets adopted right away.   I started to ponder my position in things and I felt that I should be taking on a challenge.   I should be learning something new and different.  I should be doing something that’s going to be a change and force me to change.   I have the capability, so I should be the one to adapt.   As soon as I was told about Jasmine and Grace, I knew that they were the ones that we going to come home to teach me.   
For the first 3 weeks, they never left my home office.   2 litter boxes.   2 food dishes.   2 water bowls, and about 10 times more room than they’ve ever had.   I could almost see the “OMG this is scary big!” looks on their faces when they finally ventured out of the cat carrier.   When I started to open up other areas of the house, Grace started out as the brave one.   Unfortunately, that was short lived as she made it to the living room before hiding under an end table and refusing to move...for 24 hours.   Once she got back to the office (with some assistance and me earning a few scratches for my efforts), it was 2 more weeks before she decided to venture out again.   
The first 5-6 weeks were tough on all of us.   I wanted to encourage them to get out of the office and explore the rest of the house.   My presence usually only scared them into hiding.   I wanted to show them some of the neat things to climb on.   I wanted to show them all of the room that they now had to run around in.    They sat huddled in the corner together.   
Sometimes they just creep on me while I workout in the morning.
It’s been 5 months now that Irving and I have had the two new housemates, and we’ve both learned a lot.   Irving has learned that cats turn quicker than he does….especially before a wall.   He’s also learned that cat claws are ouchie if you get in the cats face too much.   For me, there’s been a few lessons involved.  

  1. Patience.   Sometimes, we need to do things on our own schedules.   Pushing someone is good, but know when to let them work on their own.
  2. Adapting.   When I adopted these two, I thought “it’s cats. I’ve done this before”.   These two cats are a whole different ball game.   I’ve had to adapt my thinking to fit them specifically.   We’ve all benefited from their ability to get me to do that.
  3. Comfort.   I went a bit outside of my comfort zone when getting these two.   Normal cats are wonderful creatures.   Watching these two do what they do has made me laugh, learn, and think more than a “normal” cat would.   These two are the classic case of “Step outside of your comfort zone if you want to learn”.  
Anytime is playtime.   Especially 3:00 AM

Jasmine and Grace were at the shelter for 500 days.   They’ve been here for only 156 so far.   I still haven’t been able to pet Jasmine and I can only pet Grace when she’s got her face in her food dish.    I’m ok with that.   These two have made this place home.   I’m glad that they are willing to share it with Irving and I along with many, many lessons that they have in store for us.   

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Reflecting on the warmth

Today was the last mission of the season for the Akron Snow Angels.   As everyone enjoyed the 70+ degree temperatures today, most people could be seen out enjoying the weather.   Most people have the “spring has sprung” feeling as many of us seemed to forget that there were below freezing temperatures and 5-6” of snow on the ground just 2 days ago in many areas.   The homeless have not.   
As most of us go to bed thinking of summer cookouts and outdoor activities in the summer sun, the homeless stay wondering how cold it will still get.   I did see a lot of relief for many of them as they are realizing that the worst part of the season should be behind them.    In the same sense, you can also see in their faces that they realize that the battle isn’t over yet.   There’s still cold to fight.   There’s still a struggle to stay warm.   
As I drove home, the conversations that I heard made me ask some questions of myself.   What am I worried about?   What concerns me?   Why?   I kept asking the “why is that” question until it became a “is it a basic need” question.   In most of the cases, the answer was no.

Lesson one:   Concerns are often based on the overall situation.   They shouldn’t be.   Do not take the basics for granted.

A gentleman came up to the request truck today and said “you probably don’t still have my stuff  because it was January when I requested it, but I figured I’d ask anyways.”   Without a hesitation, Megan and Lisa dug into the mountain of requested items to see what the possibilities were.   At the bottom of a box, were the boots that the man requested a few months prior.   
Elated is too mild of a word for how this man felt.   I’ve seen people win on television game shows that weren’t this happy.   Seeing the worn out shoes on his feet, I can understand why.   Those of us that witnessed this couldn’t help but share in this feeling.   Everyone that was there shared in the joy.   His happiness spread like an unstoppable force.   
It felt like every ounce of work for the year was worth it, even if it was just getting this one man his boots.   As he walked away with the extra skip in his step, I started to run through my own thoughts.   I loved this feeling.  I wanted more of it.   “Where can I get this?   What do I need to do for this?    How did this happen?”   I started to boil it down to the root cause and how it lead to the end result.   As I added things up, I realize it was a very simple formula.   

Lesson two: You only need to exceed the expectation of one person to make a world of difference to many.   

     
When I start to reflect on the missions from this year, it leaves me with a vast quantity of emotions.   I feel accomplished, but that there is still so much more that needs done.   I feel educated, but that education has shown me a sample of how little I actually know.   I feel tired, but energized to do it again next season.   Most of all, I feel better.   I feel that I’m better than I was in November when the first mission of the year happened.  

I love sharing these lessons and hold the hope that they can help you.   In the same sense, learning is a process that is better through experience than teachings.   Get involved.   Get your children involved.   Make your community better.   Find ways to help.   If you need assistance in finding out what some of the needs are out there in the community, please contact me.   Through my experiences, I have come in contact with many groups and many organizations that can use your help.   I am more than happy to assist in finding someplace that can utilize your talents.   There is always some way that you can make a difference.   Some way that you can make this world better for someone...including yourself.   There are no reasons as to why you cannot help.   There are only excuses not to.   

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Connecting awareness

Some people would argue this about me, but I often struggle with what to say to people.   When working with the homeless, how do you start a conversation?   What do you say?   It’s tough to figure out common ground.   Politics are too polarized at the moment.   I’m not up on the latest in the entertainment world.   Most homeless people aren’t really into the latest automotive news.   What am I going to say to someone?
I know that I’ve mentioned this before, but I always try to make requests feel better than “just another line” for people to go through.   I don’t have much time, but I always want to do something to make sure that the people I talk to feel like people instead of a list of items on a sheet of paper.   Even though I’m not always sure that I get through in that form, I always want to make the effort.   Today, I was shown why that effort is worth it.
I took a request from a gentleman today for some boots.   He was a taller, slender man carrying a backpack, a few items he had picked up at other vehicles, and a travel mug of coffee.   His jacket was this bright, royal blue color.   A bit dirty, but a color that bright is tough to hide.   His stainless steel travel mug had two bright blue stripes on it, the same color as his jacket.   When I asked him if he planned it that way, he gave a loud laugh and said “this isn’t even my favorite mug.   I lost my favorite but ended up with this one.   I think I kinda like it now.”   
We made a few jokes and had some big laughs about being fashionable and “gotta look good all of the time” before we parted ways.   As he turned to leave, he had a huge smile on his face.   I saw him look at his mug, then his jacket a couple of times as he walked away with a touch of a skip in his step.   I’m pretty sure that he had a new favorite mug.   I get the feeling that his outlook on the day, and his mug had changed a bit.   

Lesson one: It only takes a small connection to start a big reaction.

Knowing who I am, I realize that in public situations, I become very aware of my surroundings and those that are in it.   That doesn’t mean that I catch every detail of every conversation, but it does lend me to hear and see things that others often do not.   Today, this awareness fed me two bits of information that still have me smiling.   
Through the two seasons that I’ve done missions with the Akron Snow Angels, I’ve seen a lot of faces.   Some have been different, and some have been the same.   There are those that we see time and time again that are stuck.   For whatever reason, unable to get traction to change their situation.   In some cases, they may not want to change their situation.   They’ve become comfortable with the uncomfortable.   I’m still very happy to help those people.   I don’t know why they may be stuck.   They may not even know it.   In the same sense, it may not even be their doing.   For me, I just enjoy knowing that I was able to help make their day a bit better.   
On the opposite side of that, there are people that may be spinning their wheels, but aren’t necessarily stuck.   Sometimes, there just needs to be a little bit of a push to help get un-stuck.   Today, I overheard two separate people today mention that they had either moved into or got news that they were getting housing.   In working with the homeless this is the best news to hear.   These are people that aren’t stuck.   It’s such a huge step in the right direction for people.   It’s not the end of the battle, but it’s the biggest step towards getting to what most of us consider a “normal” life.   I’m excited for these people.   I wouldn’t mind talking with them again.    I’m also glad that I won’t have to.   

Lesson two: Pay attention. Good stories are out there if you’re listening.


Hearing those two stories today puts a quote into my head….backwards.
One small step for mankind.   One giant leap for a man.   (or two)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Why smile?

I’ve been on two missions with the Akron Snow Angels since my last blog post.   Why haven’t I posted?    It’s not because I didn’t learn anything.   It’s been quite the opposite.   For me, I’ve wanted to look at things from a different perspective.   I wanted to see things with a different mindset.   I wanted to let other approaches take over for a bit and see where they lead me.   In all of this, I’ve learned a lot about myself, and people in general.   As for the mission, there were two things that seemed to stick out for me today as I talked to people.   Both points came to me from totally different levels….literally.


My first lesson was very much in my face.    Actually, I had to kneel down for it to be in my face.   In the picture, I’m talking with a gentleman named Michael.   According to those close to him, Michael was really excited to talk to me and tell me exactly what he really wanted.   Michael wanted shoes.   A size 3 kids shoe.   When I asked him what color he enthusiastically replied with, “It doesn’t matter, but I really like blue and red.”   
I’m not sure of his story.   I’m not sure of his parents story.   I do know that Michael is a neat kid.   He’s bursting at the seams with personality.   He’s got a winning smile and happy-go-lucky attitude in a less than ideal situation.   I can honestly say that Michael made my day today.
As a young child, Michael has a simpler view of the world than most of us.   In getting me back to the basics, this young man reminded me of something that I need to do more on a daily basis.


Lesson one:   Smile.   It’s contagious.


Of recent, I’ve found myself using one word in the english language more than any other, and it’s become extremely helpful to me.    The word “why” has been my guiding word of late.   As people, it’s our natural tendency to ask the “who, what, where, when”, and just file that information away.   As I’ve started to dig into the “why” of things, I’ve been able to diagnose problems rather than just look at the symptoms.   
It seems like so many people see a homeless person and assume that “poor life choices” are the reason as to why that person is living the way that they do.  If you only ask the who, what, where, and when, then I get why you’ll come to that conclusion.   When you start to ask why they made some of those choices, that’s when you really start to learn about these people.   That’s when it finally clicks as to how we can truly help people.   When you keep asking “Why?”, you’re able to break things down into solvable problems.   


Lesson two:   Continually ask “Why?” if you want to solve problems instead of symptoms.      

It’s been a little over a year that I’ve been going on missions with the Akron Snow Angels.   I feel like I’m just now reaching a new understanding of what is happening, and how we can move to make things better.   All of this because I am continually asking the question “Why?”   I suggest that you do the same.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

How important is it?

Today’s lesson for me took some dissection of the whole day and a lot of time spent with me asking “why did this happen?”   When leaving Grace Park after another very successful Snow Angels mission, I had to look at a situation that happened a number of times to see what was the driving force behind things.   
So many of the people that I come in contact when on these missions are amazingly gracious.    As I talk with other volunteers, I always hear stories of people coming up to stations and saying “ok, thank you.   I already have enough of those.”     It’s always seemed strange to me.   I think that this is partially because I’m not sure how I would react in the same situation.   What would I do?
When working the request truck, the difference typically goes the opposite direction than with the other stations.   There have been a few instances where we were not able to get all of the requested items for an individual.   Sometimes we can’t find a requested item as it may be an odd size.   Towards the end of the season, many of the stores are out of the larger sizes of coats.      
For the mission 2 weeks ago, we were supposed to have boots for a gentleman by the name of Kevin.   To me, it was strange that we didn’t have them.   I remember talking to Kevin about the boots.   I knew his name even.   Yet, his boots weren’t in the truck.   In fact, his name didn’t even appear on the list.   Did I accidentally delete him?   Did I forget to enter it?   Either way, none of that mattered at the time.   Kevin didn’t get the boots he very much needed and was quite upset about it.
As we talked, Kevin mentioned how he doesn’t stay close to downtown and getting to Grace Park isn’t easy for him.  He talked about how he has to stand and walk a lot and how he needs something so his feet don’t hurt constantly.   He was upset.   His frustration was very apparent.   As I listened to him say all of this, I tried to take it all in and just listen.  I wanted to make sure that he knew I was actually listening to what he was saying and not just brushing him off.   I wanted to make sure that he felt that I was going to do something to make sure that this didn’t happen again to him.   
In listening to him, I started to realize how many different things could contribute to why he was so frustrated.   For many, including myself, there seems to be a feeling of “you’re lucky to have us here at all”.   We all start to think, “Why are you mad at us? We’re out here helping you.   Why are you so ungrateful?”    Then I realize, it’s not the items that we did or didn’t bring, it’s how we made the people feel that was the difference.  
When Kevin mentioned it was difficult for him to get to Grace Park, it took me a minute to figure out why.   He stays in the Fairlawn area.   For most of us, a 12-15 minute drive in a car.   We hop in at our convenience and just go.   For him, it’s an estimated 29 minute bus ride...if he can afford a bus pass.   So he either walked for close to 2 hours, or spent valuable bus tokens on getting here for nothing.   Then had to do the same to get back.   For most of us, a 30 minute round trip for nothing would make us feel like we wasted our time.   For him, it could have been 4+ hours of walking…in leaky boots.   It was probably wasted resources that are extremely scarce to begin with.   
I started to realize the emotional component that could be behind all of this also.   These new boots could have been the highlight of the week, month, or maybe even the year.   For all I know, I’ve done the equivalent of climbing down some kids chimney at Christmas, ate the cookies, and left a note saying “better luck next year kid”.    In a world that doesn’t always have many outside influences that bring brightness, I may have been that bright spot.  As I left, all I could think of was that he was looking forward to these, and I let him down.
On the previous mission when I talked to Kevin, I felt awful.  I made no excuses.   I could honestly say I didn’t know why we didn’t have the boots.   I left the mission angry with myself.   
Through the week, I checked and re-checked the sheet to make sure that Kevin’s items were on the list.   I made sure that they got ordered.   When I arrived for the mission on Sunday, I dove into the box of requests just to make sure that they were there.   I did not want to feel that way twice.   
We arrived at Grace Park on Sunday and within a few minutes, I saw Kevin.   He had a look on his face that just seemed to scream “skeptical”.   It felt so good to assure him that the boots were in the truck and ready for him.   
We actually had two pairs of boots for Kevin.   One was a set of waterproof work boots, and the other was a rubber boot.   My mind was totally blown when Kevin came up to me after receiving the boots and said “Thanks for getting these!   These work boots are super nice! I love them!   They’ll work great!  The rubber ones, I probably can’t use though.   Can you get them to someone that might be able to?”    
I was a bit stunned.    Here, we totally failed for this man 2 weeks earlier, and now all he wants to do is make sure that someone else gets the boots that he may not get as much use out of.   He could have easily kept the other boots and maybe even sold them for a few dollars.   Instead, he just wanted to make sure that they went to someone that needed them more than him.   Once again....think long and hard about how you would react in that situation.
The things I learned this week were hard on me because in a way, they came at someone else’s expense.   
  1. What you consider a slight inconvenience, could be something extremely difficult for someone else.
  2. Your word, no matter what the situation is binding.
  3. There’s no better feeling than coming through for someone. The opposite is also true. There’s no worse feeling than failing someone.

I started my week with a sense of being highly aware of those around me.   Treat every interaction as it’s the most important one.   For those you’re interacting with, it just might be.   

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Your future and a tent

My weekend of Akron Snow Angels activities started early this time.   A number of weeks ago, a friend of mine mentioned what her amazing daughter has started as a tradition for her birthday.    She picks a charity, and asks everyone to bring donations for that charity.   For her 12th birthday party, she picked the Akron Snow Angels.   When I first heard this, I was excited.   As time passed, I honestly forgot the date so when I received a message last night with a picture of tables that were piled full of toothpaste, socks, soap, and coats, I was speechless.   I’m not sure that it’s still fully registered with me.   Most kids are upset when they don’t get the latest and greatest video game that they asked for...and this one wants nothing more than to know that she’s helping others.   
A fixture with the Akron Snow Angels is Ty.   Ty is just one of those kids with a smile and personality that makes him tough not to like.   Ty can often be found doing things like any other 12 year old on a Sunday morning.   He’ll be out tossing a football or joking around with his friends.   The difference is that a lot of those friends are homeless.   Ty has been involved with the Akron Snow Angels for a while now and I’m not sure that I can put into words how well he interacts with everyone at the missions.   There’s no awkwardness that you’d normally see from someone of his age.   There’s just this burning desire to help people.   His most amazing talent with the people is getting them to smile.   He just gets people to light up.   It’s a joy to watch.      
These two amazing kids are the products of proud parents that have taken an active role in deciding the future.   Not just the future of their kids, but the future for all of us.   Their active role with their kids has created compassion and hope for the future.   The generous attitude and mindset of compassion that has been instilled in these kids has taught me something.   
Lesson one: The future is what you make it.   No one else.   You.

If you’ve followed the blog, you may remember a man I wrote about last time that had just gotten a job and was in need of a set of Carhartt overalls.   The following Tuesday, someone had written into the Akron Snow Angels and asked if they could purchase the needed coveralls.    Since being involved with the Akron Snow Angels, I have seen a lot of great things happen.   This honestly ranks near the top for me.   
When we arrived at the mission, I was grateful to be able to snag a few minutes where I could actually talk to the recipient of the warmest coveralls you’ll find.   His energy was contagious.   “It's going great.   They’ve been able to give me some extra hours, so I’ll take that every chance I can get.   I get paid next Friday!   We’d love to be able to find a place as I really want to get us into a place and out of the tent.   If you know of anyplace, let me know.”   Hearing all of this and his hopeful outlook is a wonderful ray of light in a often dim place.
 
As I talked with him, I mentioned the blog and how the relationship that he and his wife shows through and has made quite the impression on me.   He instantly thanked me for getting the coveralls to him and wanted me to pass on his gratitude for the good Samaritan that purchased them for him.   He then said something so simple, but extremely profound.   “When you have nothing else, each other is all that matters.”    
Those words stuck with me the rest of the day.   I realized that what he said has a lot of truth.   In the same sense, I think that he could have made it simpler.

Lesson 2: Each other is all that matters.    

There were so many other interactions today that I had that all seemed to point me in this same direction.   Please, take a few minutes to look around to see what really matters.   When it gets cold later this week, ask yourself this…   Who do you want in your tent?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Positively Chilling

It’s 9:00 on a Sunday morning as I pull my dad’s truck out of the garage and start down the road for another mission with the Akron Snow Angels.   Less than a mile down the road I look over at the readout in the truck that tells me it’s 8 degrees outside.   I’m in the truck, all bundled up in 4 layers of clothes including Carhartt overalls, and I’m cold.   It’s at this point when it dawns on me, “I don’t see how some of my friends live in this.”
I was the first to arrive at the facility where we meet and store all of the items that we have.   It’s not heated, but it does keep everything that we have dry.    As soon as I pushed the door open I felt a rush of disappointing, but not unexpected cold air.   Once again, the question of “how can they live in this?” circled around in my head.   
We had a few more volunteers than normal today which was nice.   We got everything loaded up and headed for Grace Park as per our usual routine.   With it being so cold out, the crowd that greeted us had fewer people.   To me, that’s a good thing.   It means that some of the shelters have opened their doors to a few more people in order to make sure that they can stay warm.   
We parked and I got to do my favorite job again.   I took requests today.   I still love doing this.   I love how it gives me a chance to hear from, learn about, and interact with so many people.   Some of them are more memorable than others, but today had one interaction that gave me a bit of a spark, and it’s what led me to figure out what the lesson was for today.
On the early December mission, I met a man and his wife.   He is a taller man with a booming voice, a firm handshake and a friendly demeanor.   She is quieter and prefers to be in the background, but is very pleasant.    They live in a tent, so their situation is obviously not ideal, but my perception of their situation tells me that it’s an amazing relationship.   
He is a man of pride.   He sees their situation, and wants to work to get both of them out of it.   He is working to move things forward.   He wants to provide for them.  He wants to protect her.   On the flip side of the equation, through thick and painfully very thin times, she supports him.   She has confidence in him.   They are in a tough spot and yet they are in it 100% together.   They help each other.   It’s very easy to bail when times get tough and say “I’ll do this on my own.”   With these two, they want to do it together.   They do what so many people don’t in making sure that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.    What’s amazing is that they are doing this in conditions that most people would give up in.   It’s a powerful thing to see.   
This mission, he came up to me and asked if he could get a set of Carhartt coveralls.   It was with great pride that he told me “I got a job!”   He told me where and what he’d be doing.   “I’ll be outside 9 hours a day and it’s not going to start getting warmer for a while yet.   I hope that on the first of the month, we can finally get a place.”   Hearing those words made my week.   
It was after this conversation with him that I noticed something about everyone that I had talked to that day.   When my house drops below 68 degrees, I think it’s cold, and although I don’t complain to the dog and cats, I probably would if they would listen.   These people are living in conditions where the temperature is 8….and they aren’t complaining.   People made a few small jokes about the cold, but no actual complaints.   No griping.   No “I hate this”.   
I’ve always somewhat avoided the “how’s it going?” question when on missions as I’ve always been afraid of making someone feel bad.   After some thoughts though, I wanted to see if my lesson was turning out to be what I thought it was.   I asked my friend Jared how he was doing.   “Good!” was his only reply.   I asked Jesse how he has been as I haven’t seen him for a while.  “Not too bad”.    I asked some of the people that came up to me for requests.  “Doing ok.”   “Great!”   “I’m alive and well.”   Not one had a negative answer.   
As I started to process all of these answers and why they have them, I realized that negativity is a sign of giving up.   If you give up in this situation, in these conditions, you’re dead.   In these sometimes dire situations, hope and a positive attitude may be the only things that you have.   

Today’s lesson: Even in a difficult situation, your outlook can mean the difference between survival or failure.