Archive | August, 2011

Harold – Positive and Caring Despite Challenges

26 Aug

Harold lives in Houston, TX.  I was introduced to him through the Lord of the Street Episcopal Church and Community of the Streets Outreach.  Their mission is to minister to the spiritual, emotional, physical and social needs of individuals living in Houston who are homeless, in crisis or in transition.  Harold came to them for assistance last year.

Born in Denver, CO Harold received a teaching degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder.  He never used his degree as he got the travel bug and became a Flight Attendant.  In 1991 he retired after 20 years as an international Flight Attendant.

He now does some work gardening for a small group of clients as his age, 60 years, makes it difficult to get a job.  But that’s just his work history; his personal history is a bit more complicated.

Harold was diagnosed with HIV in 1983.  He contracted it from his long-term partner who became infected with it before the virus was ever recognized.  His partner died of AIDS in 1985.  Harold’s virus has not turned into AIDS partly because he is diligent in taking care of himself.  He doesn’t drink or smoke, and he walks and rides his bike to stay in shape.  He takes his AIDS cocktail of medication religiously.  And while this can be quite expensive he is grateful that the State of Texas has a program which pays for it.

The challenge comes when he becomes ill or injured due to something that is determined to be not directly related to his HIV positive status.  He has Medicare but that only pays for so much.  In 2003 Harold was diagnosed with Hepatitis.  He was treated with chemotherapy which was quite hard on him.  Last year Harold was treated for skin cancer.  He is grateful to have his health back.

Harold received housing assistance through the AIDS Foundation of Houston which had a grant from the City of Houston.  Unfortunately, due to funding cuts, the grant was eliminated in 2010.  Harold heard about Lord of the Street from a friend.  He contacted them but was denied assistance as there were others who required help more immediately.  He understood as he knows many are struggling these days.  He tried hard to stay afloat but eventually fell behind in his rent payment.  He was grateful when the city reinstated the grant to the AIDS Foundation at the end of last year, although he received less than he had before due to the overwhelming needs of the community.

His latest concern is that the grant expires again in October of this year.  He doesn’t know if it will be renewed as the city of Houston has had to lay-off city workers due to lack of money.  So Harold prepares.  He is applying for a housing program through the State of Texas although he is aware that there is a two-year waiting list.  He has heard that the Houston Area Urban League just received more funding so he’s arranged a meeting with them next week.  “You have to be tenacious in keeping your head above water,” he says.  “God wouldn’t bring you this far only to leave you.”

Harold is one of the most positive people I have spoken with.  He is a spiritual man who is grateful to his church for their support over the years.  When speaking about the challenges he has faced he says, “That’s my lot in life, but it’s o.k.  Life offers many challenges, be positive and caring.”



Trusha – MBA and Unemployed

23 Aug

I met Trusha at a job fair in Austin, Texas.  She is 36 years old. She’s a wife and   mother and has been unemployed for nine months.  She worked as a School Psychologist.  During this time, she felt that the expectation was to push children through the system instead of working with them to truly help with their issues for the long-term.  She says it, “became about quantity, not quality.”  After four years she chose to leave.

She then became the Owner/Operator of a Huntington Learning Center franchise, a private educational center which helps kids overcome challenges to become better students.  After five years running the center she received an offer to purchase it.  As she was pregnant with her second child, the timing seemed right and she took it as a sign and sold the business.

With two kids and having left her job, Trusha decided to re-examine her goals.  While she enjoyed being a mother and spending time with her children, she still had career and financial objectives.  She decided that she truly enjoyed the business aspect of owning the learning center and went back to school.  She graduated from Baylor University last year with an MBA.

Line outside Austin job fair

She has performed contract work in asset management for hotels but, as the economy slowed down, so did that business.  So now she attends networking events and job fairs.  She sees the crowds.  “It’s definitely a competition,” she says. She has submitted hundreds of resumes and has often been told she is over-qualified.  She’s willing to take a lesser position in order to form a relationship with a company.  Trusha says she is, “not looking for just a job, it’s a career.”  She also stops by companies that she is interested in working for to drop off letters of introduction requesting informational interviews.  As she says, “you never know if they have a position they haven’t advertised for or one may come up tomorrow.  I treat looking for a job as a full-time job.”

Trusha would like to work for someone else for a change.  “I don’t want to go back to owning my own business.  There’s too much stress.”  She wouldn’t mind using her MBA to become a Financial Advisor.

Trusha knows that her job is not everything.  She keeps her spirits up by concentrating on other aspects of her life such as her husband and children.

A footnote to this story – Trusha did not want her photo taken for this article.  You see, Trusha’s cultural background is one where many women don’t have advanced degrees.  Once married with children they are expected to stay at home.  She is concerned that other women of her culture will see her and, knowing she is currently unemployed, choose not to further their education.

Mike – Confidence and Faith

22 Aug

Church where I met Mike

I met Mike at a church in Mesilla, New Mexico.  He lives just down the road in Las Cruces.  In the 1980’s Mike and his father opened an air conditioning and heating company.  They spent 28 years growing the business which eventually employed 60 people. The company’s main business involved new residential properties and Mike was working 6 days a week.  He didn’t mind as he loved his work and took pride in the company’s success.  Mike’s wife worked for a mortgage company leading others through the mortgage process in order to buy their home.  They had worked hard and proudly built their own dream home.

Then the housing bubble burst.  “Nobody could qualify for a mortgage,” he says.  Suddenly the orders for new air conditioning units slowed.  Mike had to start laying people off.  Finally Mike had to close down the business that he and his father had worked so hard to build.  His wife was laid-off from her mortgage company job.  Within a year and a half Mike and his wife lost their home.  Then, after knowing each other for eight years, and being married for two, the stress was too much.  Mike and his wife separated three years ago.

Mike’s wife has since worked various jobs trying to survive.  She has worked for a bank and an advertising agency doing radio station promotions.  Both paid less than she used to make, and both soon ended.  When applying for positions she was often told she was over-qualified.  She was recently working for a state agency which builds low-income housing.  Last Friday she was laid-off from that.  She is currently living with an adult son from a previous marriage.  They help each other hang on, as he was laid-off from his job over three months ago.

Mike does his best to help out financially.  He has found a job installing air conditioning units for commercial institutions such as prisons and schools.  If only it were closer to home.  Mike now spends four days a week living out of a hotel room 200 miles away.  He’s grateful for the job but finds it difficult on his relationships with his adult children.  He says his kids are happy that he now has a job, but they’re not as close as they once were because he’s just not there.  Still he says, “If this is what we have to do to keep our economy going, then that’s what we do.”

Mike is used to overcoming the odds.  He is a recovering alcoholic who has been clean for 11 years.  “I have confidence and faith,” he says.  “The mental state cannot be shocked anymore.”

Mike is working hard to catch up on outstanding debts including state and federal taxes.  He is trying to help out his wife, and hoping to find a job closer to home.  “It’s been difficult,” he says, “but it’s built more character.”

Jose – Learning from the past

18 Aug

Today we begin.  The drive actually starts on Saturday but, as the starting point is Phoenix, that is where our stories begin.  Please check out the “About” section to understand how this works and when you can vote.



Jose was born in San Antonio Texas.  When he was six years old he, his mother and two sisters moved to Seguin, Texas to escape a father who was abusive to his mother.  At that point, as Jose puts it, “I was the man of the house.  I had to take care of Mama.”  He was ten when he saw his father rolling a joint and that is when Jose started smoking pot.  It is also when he joined a gang.  As part of the initiation he got a tattoo.  To make matters worse, the tattoo was on his face.

When he was seventeen Jose was involved in crimes with his gang.  They involved drugs and burglary and, when he was eighteen, he went to prison for fourteen years.

Jose is now 59 years old.  When he looks back on the mistakes he made he knows that he cannot change the past.  He is however, trying hard to change his future, as well as the future of others. As he puts it, “I was always right, I was never wrong.  Everything was for me.”  Now, with maturity and hindsight, Jose speaks from experience.  “I want to be a role model for the kids.  To tell kids, don’t do something wrong because they will regret it.  I took the wrong turn.”

Jose moved from Texas to Arizona in December of 2010 to make a new start.  He had an uncle in Phoenix that he wanted to be closer with and says that he felt his heart was always in Arizona.  When he arrived there, he knocked on the door of his uncle’s house and a stranger answered.  They informed him that they now owned the house as his uncle had died.  Still, Jose plans to stay as he believes this is where he was meant to be.

I met Jose at a job fair.  He was seeking a position as a busboy, dishwasher or something similar.  As he has no car he took the bus by using passes given to him by his case manager at St. Vincent de Paul.  You see, Jose lives in a transitional housing shelter through the non-profit agency.  He volunteers twice per week in the kitchen.

Jose has submitted over 40 applications yet has heard nothing.  He obviously has challenges to overcome.  The face tattoos are obvious, and his felony conviction is a big hurdle.  And then there’s his age. While we’d like to believe life experience is valuable, many of today’s older unemployed are finding that’s just not the case.  “I love working and I feel uncomfortable not working,” he says.  “I want to be somebody.”

His case manager says she wishes she could go with him to apply and interview for jobs to tell potential employers that he will be the hardest working employee they’ve had.  She has even gone as far as to ask her friend, a make-up artist, to teach Jose how to apply make-up to cover his tattoos.

While Jose would like to find a doctor who can remove his tattoos, his immediate concern is finding work.  “I’m hungry for a job.  I can’t give up until I find one.”

As Maya Angelou said, “You did then what you knew how to do. And when you knew better, you did better.”  Jose knows better and is waiting for someone to give him a chance to do better.

For Goodness Sake

9 Aug

I read an article saying that the average human being only uses a small percentage of their lung capacity.  I read another saying that we also only use a small percentage of our brain capacity.  I believe we only use a small percentage of our capacity for goodness.

I was talking to a friend today about this and, in an attempt to be supportive (always appreciated), she made an off-hand remark that doing good was not that hard.  I beg to differ.  For instance, you can do aerobic exercise to increase lung capacity (really folks, I’m not a doctor so, no medical advice here).  You can take classes and do word puzzles to increase your brain capacity.  Both of these take effort and commitment.  Improving your “goodness capacity” also takes effort and commitment.

Regarding the effort – well, here I am on vacation after working five months straight.  I worked every day, 70-80 hours per week.  I’m heading back to work at the end of the month, yet I have taken on this project.  It is not simply about writing. It involves developing the website (thanks for reading, subscribing and sharing), planning my route across the U.S. and meeting the people who will be profiled (investigating job fairs, food banks, etc.).  There’s been some time spent getting out the word about the project to individuals and media (yes, there will be some coverage).  Of course there will be the drive across the U.S (2181.82 miles and 32 hours and 13 minutes according to MapQuest).  And finally, the writing part. That’s a lot of effort.

In regards to the commitment, well that’s a bit of the inspiration for this project.  When things were really tough for me, I was surprised by both the people who were there for me and those that weren’t.  This project is to honor those who were.  You see, every time I said a heartfelt thank you I was told, “Just pay it forward.”  This term came into common usage following the release of the movie of the same name in 2000.  Most have said it, few have done it.  When things get better, we tend to get so involved with our everyday life that we forget these promises.  One thing my dad taught me is never to break a promise.

I woke up this morning and had a flashback to where I was two years ago.  I was living in Phoenix, Arizona, my air conditioning had broken and I had no money to fix it.  It was 106 degrees in my kitchen (according to my meat thermometer) and I lived that way for a month and a half.  It’s hard for me to forget the promises I made.

I’ve received incredible support for this project. Some have talked about karma – “Oh, you will have such good karma from this,” they say.  The thing is, if we do things with the expectation of good karma coming back at us, it seems a bit selfish.  While I do believe in karma (to a point), I’m not sure that this should be our primary reason for doing not only what is right, but maybe going above and beyond.  Perhaps we should do it simply to work on improving our “goodness capacity.”

Just as the more you exercise the easier it becomes and the better you feel, the more work you do to contribute to the world in a positive way, the easier it becomes and the better you feel.

So, while one reason for starting this project is to keep promises, the other reason is simply – For Goodness Sake.

Note: The Rebel-With-A-Cause Road Trip begins in approximately 10 days. Feel free to spread the word. Oh, and follow me on Twitter @rblcause.

Rebel With A Cause – It Begins

2 Aug

Hello All –

Well, here it is. For those of you who have been reading my snarky blog, My Own Adventure, about my adventures in reinventing myself, I thank you.  I’d love it if you keep reading.  But, as  Monty Python might say, and now for something completely different.

Some of you have read about my adventures in applying for food stamps, attempts at obtaining the elusive mortgage modification, trying to find a job (and not the 5 I was doing), or simply trying to survive.  Although I have accomplished these things and have more adventures to come, it’s no time to think about others.

You see, my life has definitely changed from what it was seven months ago.  And while I am in credibly grateful, I have not forgotten where I was and those who helped me.  The fact that others are still in dire straights does not escape me for one minute.  So here’s the project:

I will be driving from Arizona to Florida later this month to rejoin the cruise ship I now work on.  I will be doing a writing project along the way.  My plan – to meet people who are experiencing their own challenges.  Whether it’s due to the economy, health issues, family challenges or simply bad luck, many are still struggling.  I will find them through job fairs, food kitchens, connections or just by chance and tell their stories.

This is where you come in. I need you to read the stories and vote.  Yes, my friends, you will decide who I give $1,000 to.  I ask that you share this website with others.  Post it to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or simply E-mail it.  Let’s start a revaluation of appreciation.

Am I rich? Not in the slightest (at least monetarily).  However, my cup runneth over when it comes to gratitude.  You see, many people surprised me when things were tough.  I was blown away by the quiet generosity and caring which came in some unexpected ways (you know who you are).  So this is me, paying it forward.

So read, share, subscribe and vote.  It costs you nothing.  Please stay tuned for more info. to come in the next couple of weeks.

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