Volunteer, My Dear?

“Although running off and joining the Peace Corps may not be practical at this time in your lives, there are other ways to spend time together while contributing to the welfare of others. Nonprofit organizations often put out a call for volunteers around major holidays, though you may want to avoid the rush and make a few calls yourself to see which cause could use a cooperative couple of volunteers.”

As I’ve mentioned before, Clark and I met playing music. We could be in a raging fight, but if we start playing music together, in a matter of minutes we can completely forget why we were on each other’s case. It is a gift really– to have a common interest that has continued to bind us since the very beginning. We were reflecting on this very fact as we prepared for this week’s Great Cheap Date Challenge #11 at Charlotte Emergency Housing— a homeless shelter for working families. This mission is unique in that it allows whole families to remain together in one shelter, rather than be divided. Center City Church sponsored this year’s Christmas party for the house, and we were the musical entertainment. We dusted off our Christmas tunes and attempted to spread some holiday cheer to 14 families who are fighting to stay together under the crushing weight of poverty and homelessness. One 4-year-old named Cameron attached himself to me early in the evening requesting song after song, to which I finally gave him the mic as we sang yet another round of Jingle Bells together. He must have asked me half a dozen times afterward, “Did I do good?” When he received his stocking filled with toys and candy, I expected him to tear into it like any other American, consumer-bred child would have. Instead, he lined up his new matchbox cars still in the packaging underneath the Christmas tree and stared at them for a long while. I dare say that I haven’t seen wonder in a child’s eyes like that before. It was a beautiful night shared with beautiful people. As we were preparing to leave, I caught sight of a framed canvas on the wall entitles, “My Name is Not ‘Those People’.” The following words stopped me dead in my tracks and humbled me right on the spot.

“My name is not ‘Those People’. I am a loving woman, a mother in pain, giving birth to the future, where my babies have the same chance to thrive as anyone.

My name is not ‘inadequate’. I did not make my husband leave us- he chose to, and chooses not to pay child support. Truth is though, there isn’t a job base for all fathers to support their families. While society turns its head, my children pay the price.

My name is not ‘Problem and Case to Be Managed’. I am a capable human being and citizen, not a client. The social service system can never replace the compassion and concern of loving Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Fathers, Cousins, Community- all the bonded people who need to be but are not present to bring children forward to their potential.

My name is not ‘Lazy Dependent Welfare Mother.” If the unwaged work of parenting, homemaking and community building was factored into the Gross Domestic Product, my work would have untold value. And I wonder why my middle-class sister whose husbands support them to raise their children are glorified- and they don’t get called lazy and dependent.

My name is not ‘Ignorant, Dumb, or Uneducated’. I live with an income of $621 with $169 in food stamps. Rent is $585. That leaves $36 a month to live on. I am such a genius of surviving that I could balance the state budget in an hour.

Never mind that there is a lack of living-wage jobs. Never mind that it is impossible to be the sole emotional, social, and economic support to a family. Never mind that parents are losing their children to the gangs, drugs, stealing, prostitution, social workers, kidnapping, the streets, the predator. Forget about putting money into our schools- just build more prisions.

The wind will stop before I let my children become a statistic. Before you give into the urge to blame me, the blame that lets us go blind and unknowing into the isolation that disconnects us, take another look. Don’t go away. For I am not the problem, but the solution. And my name is not ‘Those People’.”

— By Julia Dinsmore


1 Comment

  1. Dee Nash said,

    December 13, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    I guess what we dont realize is that anyone of of us can become those people. What those people need more than anything is dignity and respect. Circumstances can take us to places we never dreamed we would be; suddenly we are those people. Without the love of friends and family those people have no hope. We need to be sensitive to perserving dignity while we are meeting needs. Thanks for printing this…touched my heart!

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