Wednesday, March 23, 2005

March 2005: Low-Income Child Care

Last week, I distributed the snack food that my loyal volunteer, Tiffany R, collected to several low-income daycares in Morristown, NJ. It was an unusually bittersweet experience, having just shut down the childcare center in December that we had started to raise money for expanding our programs.

Well, recently I've been a bit down about Focus America. Financial donations are hard to get from people. In many ways, charities are expected to do so many good-will activities but no one wants to pay for them. We run this charity, Focus America, as a volunteer-group, and, since our inception, I have encountered debt upon debt because I believe in this cause. I'm tired of receiving bills that cannot be paid and tired of listening to my husband complain about how I'm trying to save the world. Christmas 2004 burned me out with lots of work and stress, not to mention the overwhelming disappointment from a volunteer from the Illinois area who collected over $800 to purchase beds for a poor family in Michigan...beds that never arrived and the money is MIA although I suspect I know who's pocket it went to. I had disappointments in some people I had considered friends, too...friends who begrudgingly offered to help families but only after they complained that "these people should be given birth control and not hand outs."

There are some dear friends and family who are close to me encourage me the best way that they can. My greatest champion, my mother, always reminds me to focus on the lives that I have touched and not the negative experiences I have encountered. I try but, there are days that it is hard. This is a line of (volunteer) work that doesn't come with a lot of accolades or appreciation.

However, on the day that I delivered the snack foods, something happened that was so turned me back on track.

The director from the one center, Children on the Green, welcomed me with a big smile and praise for all that we do. Then she said, "Come, see Austin! See how big our little boy has gotten." It took me a minute to truly understand what she was saying.

I looked around the childcare center, searching the faces of the children. Who was Austin and why, on this miserable, raining day, did I care? But then I saw him and I remembered. There stood little Austin, his big blue eyes sparkling and his blond hair in gentle waves around his ears. Oh yes, I remembered. I remembered everything that I had blocked out from the horrible experience of running that childcare center...the stress, the tears, the debt, the disappointments. But then I remembered that in blocking out the bad, I had blocked out the good. I had blocked out Austin.

Dear little Austin was born with a terrible physical handicap (and the name of it escapes me right now). He was small at birth and didn't grow properly. He had to have a feeding tube inserted into his belly and he carried a backpack at all times so that he was basically getting 24x7 nutrition this tube. At the time we met Austin, no other child care center would take him. We took him. Or, rather, I took him. My staff didn't want to really have him in their group...understandably so because we were starting out and his "illness" was scary. What if the tube popped out? What if another child pulled the tube out? What if we were sued? But, we did take him because he was a little boy that needed to have friends and socialization.

He was a darling boy and I fell in love with him immediately. But, his time with us was short. His condition was taxing on my staff and, after his tube DID fall out and we rushed him to the hospital, I was even a bundle of nerves. But we worked with his mother, a courageous and lovely young woman, and I pulled a few chits to help expedite his inclusion with a larger daycare that could help him and his mother in more ways than we could...especially since we were so small and new.

Yes, I had blocked out darling Austin. But it came flooding back. And wouldn't you know it? That child remembered me! His face lit up and he danced up and down, clapping his hands. I rushed over to his side and talked to him, my eyes searching his. He wasn't wearing his backpack anymore (although he does still need it). And he was beautiful...a regular little guy with friends at this new center.

Yes, after 7 months, this child remembered me. And surely I remembered him. He was the good...the one true thing that happened with that experience that, as my mother would say, proves that we can make a difference in someone's life. In front of me was the little, living proof.

Oh yes, I remembed Austin and I couldn't talk anymore. The tears came and I rushed out of the center, so choked up that I could not say goodbye to the director. I was crying for so many things...the things that were, the things that should have been, and the things that I truly want so much for the future. Bittersweet thoughts and tears for certain.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Snack Collections for Low Income Children

Well, my dear volunteer, Tiffany, did it again! For the third year in a row, she has spear-headed a volunteer drive at her organization, Pru, for the February snack drive and collected tons of snack food to be distributed to low-income child care centers in the area. In the past, we have distributed these foods to Children on the Green to help defray the expense of purchasing snack food for their children, some of whom are from the homeless and battered woman's shelter. This year, we are going to invite Collinsville Child Care Center to receive some goods, too. I've heard quite a bit about this new center and how they have been struggling a bit but doing a wonderful job.

It's amazing to me that this is the THIRD year we have been helping these centers. Sometimes I forget about these wonderful things that we do and the impact they have on our community. It really realigns my own expectations. Perhaps we'll never be a Habitat for Humanity but we are helping day at a time.

Thanks, Tiffany, for another wonderfully successful drive.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Answering to donors

I was very excited yesterday when I visited our PO box and found the very first gift card for a shopping center. We just started this program and, like all things charity, they are slow to take off but, as the momentum builds, this program will be as successful as our other ones. Now, our dear client in Ohio who is terribly ill can receive her fresh fruits that she needs but, since she is ill, cannot afford to buy.

The joy of this single gift helps when I have to answer to people who question our existance, afraid to send a gift card b/c we sound "shady". It breaks my heart that so many people must have been hurt or burned in the past by unscrupulous people.

We try so hard to reach out and touch people, to organize this charity to help eliminate any suspicions. We are one gets a salary. We have been recognized by the White House...isn't that a good endorsement? We have helped over 3000 children at Christmas in the past three years and over 2000 children during back to school. Plus, we've distributed hundreds of coats to the poor during winter, collected and distributed snack food to low-income child care centers, collected cells phones for domestic violence victims, and so many other wonderful programs.

I just don't know what else we can do to convince people that our grassroots effort is a worthy investment. Well, actually...that's not true. I do know what we can do--marketing. But that costs that I cannot personally afford to spend anymore and, frankly, we shouldn't have to spend as it takes away from the very programs and people we want to help. Every dime spent on marketing is taking food away from the children we are helping.

Do we need financial donations? Absolutely. However, I would prefer more gift cards to be sent out to these needy families and communities. Gift cards take up less storage space which, right now, is our two car garage that we haven't been able to park in for over two years. They also only cost 37 cents to mail...vs. $50 for a large box of canned goods.

To the Katie McGraw's of the world, thank you. You have made a difference in someone's life...and not just our clients...mine.