Tag Archives: Re-invention

A Living History Museum Providing Training for Successful Living in the Future

19 Jan

Living History MuseumDo historical museums bore you? Walking from room-to-room seeing pieces of paper and objects from times long since passed, feeling cold and impersonal. What if a museum were more like theatre? If you could actually meet the people who the possessions belonged to and hear their stories? If this sounds interesting to you, well, I’ve found the perfect place. It’s called the Bremer Geschichtenhaus (Bremer Story House), in Bremen, Germany, and it’s not only a combination of a museum and live theatre, but most of the “employees” are either volunteers, or are found through “bras eV”, an employment and job-training agency (through governmental support) which works with the local government to help the jobless and homeless get back on their feet.

When people file for assistance they’re connected to bras eV which provides a variety of classes, training and life-planning programs. Their methodology for Life/Work Planning is based on “What, Where and How.” The “What” is an analysis of a person’s abilities based on a detailed biography. The “Where” helps them figure out in what industry and which companies they might like to work and be a good fit. And the “How” helps them research which companies have positions which might suit their interests and qualifications as well as understand which skills they need to further develop and how to go about applying successfully.

But where does the Bremer Geschichtenhaus fit in? In its most basic form, it gives employees what’s known as a “1 Euro Job.” While it pays only slightly more than €1, it’s the term used for a low-paying job that’s not meant to be permanent, but a transitional job to gain confidence and skills. And that’s what the Bremer Geschichtenhaus unquestionably does.

I met Herman who has worked there for exactly one-year. His journey began five-years ago when his father died. He was a truck driver and stayed home to take care of his mother. He lived with her until she went to a care facility which is when his brother stopped paying the rent on the rental house they were living in and Herman’s life began falling apart. He ended up homeless for four-months before seeking help at a mission. As is the norm, they housed him for six-months (it allows for people to get their heads together and try to get back on their feet on their own). After six-months his case-worker sent him to the museum. He enjoys what he does as he has interaction with visitors and learns new skills all the time. He plays the part of historical figures of Bremerhaven and likes performing a variety of roles which bring history to life.

I also had the opportunity to meet Silke who’s been working at the Bremer Geschichtenhaus for four months. After losing her job, her apartment and her boyfriend, all within a two-week period, her life also fell apart. She started working at the Bremer Geschichtenhaus in October and found it difficult at first. She felt overwhelmed by the regular schedule and expectations. This is a basic part of the training that the Bremer Geschichtenhaus provides – training people to stick to a regular schedule and be on time for work. It can be difficult when you’ve lost your self-esteem.

The Bremer Geschichtenhaus, which opened in 2006, is the brainchild of business partners Sara and Mick. Prior to opening the Geschichtenhaus, Sara worked in theatre as a director. When she was approached to be a part of the Geschichtenhaus, she thought it was a crazy idea that just might work. She decided to take a chance and join in the project to open a living history museum which could entertain and inform while assisting to help those in need. It was a win/win situation. While Sara handles the performance side, Mick deals with the business side including the partnership with the bras job center. They also employ three other full time people who help run the place.

Coffee MerchantThe shows cover the time period from 1635 until just before WWI. The performers tell the stories of the characters they portray who might be a coffee-maker, for which Bremen is well-known, or Heini Holtenbeen, who walked with a pronounced limp due to an accident. As he could no longer complete his apprenticeship, he made a career out of collecting the discarded stubs of cigars in the market square and selling the tobacco as pipe tobacco. You’ll “meet” the adventurous fish merchant, Fish Lucie, as well as Bremen’s most famous poisoner, Gifts Gottfried. Known as the “Angel of Bremen” she was convicted of poisoning fifteen people using arsenic-laced butter and her execution was the last public one held in the square. The stories are informative and entertaining with a little comedy thrown in. And audience members can actually ask the characters questions about their lives and the times. On Fridays they have shows in English.

The museum receives approximately 30% of its funding through paid admissions and pays 30% of the wages to employees referred through bras, while bras pays the rest.

The Bremer Geschichtenhaus is located in the heart of the Schnoor District of Bremen and welcomes visitors daily. They also have programs for school groups as well as catered private parties. They appreciate volunteers to help with general administrative duties, guest relations, catering and even performing. And they’re grateful for any donations which assist in operating costs such as costuming, laundry, rent and general needs. Please visit their website listed below for all information.

Bremer Geschichtenhaus website: http://www.bremer-geschichtenhaus.de/

Bremer Geschichtenhaus website (in English): http://translate.google.de/translate?hl=en&sl=de&u=http://www.bremer-geschichtenhaus.de/&prev=search

To donate or volunteer, please contact: fruchtmann-bras-bremen.de

Are you in Bremen, Germany, and need help getting back on your feet? Contact: http://bras-bremen.de/


Voting Is Open

2 Oct

Thank you for joining me on this journey.  It’s not only been a geographical one across the country, but a spiritual one across economic gaps.

We’ve now come to the end – or perhaps this is just the beginning.  One goal of this project was to use my talent to help others.  We all have some talent.  I ask that you look inside yourself and figure out where your talents lie.  Is there a way to use that talent to make a positive change in this world?  We can all contribute, and it does not need to be cash.

Perhaps it’s time we stopped keeping score.  We can do good without thinking about what that person has done for us in the past or how they might help us in the future.  We can do good simply because we can. What I have discovered through this project is that when you begin to good simply for goodness sake, you are rewarded in ways you cannot imagine.  People share their story, which is the ultimate form of trust, and friends send endless supplies of kind words.  Finally, strangers find you and share similar goals.  You are also able to see the kindnesses that people begin to share with others through your inspiration.  There is no greater gift.

You’ve heard their stories, formed your opinion and now it’s time for you to vote Just click “Vote” at the bottom.  DIY Travel Deal has been kind enough to supply the poll and results.  You may vote for more than one person if you choose.  Just click again. Each must be done separately.  Voting closes at 11:59pm Eastern Time on October 15th.

Please remember that this vote is simply for whom I give $1,000 to.  If someone’s story has touched you and there is anyway you can help, please do so.  This does not mean contribute money to them; perhaps you can help them with a job, or a doctor or fulfill some other need.  Or perhaps it involves none of these people at all. Perhaps this has encouraged you to help someone else in need.

Please choose to vote.  And share the stories you have read.  Should you like to get in touch with any of those profiled you may feel free to E-mail me at crosen7646@yahoo.com.  Thank you for sharing this journey.  Please continue to share the goodness.


Shanikah – Homeless But Not Hopeless

6 Sep

Shanikah is a 33 year-old single mother of four children.  She has three boys and a girl ranging in ages from 21 months to 11 years.  She was born in Miami but spent much of her childhood in Freeport, Bahamas.

While never wealthy, Shanikah has always worked hard. She attended Palm Beach Community College but had to drop out due to a pregnancy.  She has worked in various positions including retail sales, telemarketing and child-care.  Her last job was as a sales associate at Dillards.  Unfortunately, she had to leave that position as her son, who was staying with relatives in the Bahamas, became ill and was hospitalized.  Knowing her first priority was as a mother she left her job and flew to the Bahamas.

Always close with her family, Shanika and her sister made a deal.  Shanika would take care of her own kids and her sister’s son, while her sister would pay the rent on their apartment in Orlando with the money she earned at her job in the Bahamas.  Shanika would find a job to pay for the groceries.  Shanika’s sister soon lost her job.  Like many other Americans, Shanikah had a difficult time finding a job.  Very quickly the money ran out.

Shanikah and her kids are now living at the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.  This is where I met them.  They’ve been living there for about a month and it’s somewhere Shanikah never thought she would be.  “I’ve never been homeless.  I never thought it would happen to me.”  While it was hard for her to accept help, she knew she had to do it for her children.  “I have kids.  I had to put my big girl boots on and find a place.”  Still, she fights to improve her family’s situation.  “I’d clean houses. I just want a job,” she says.

The Center provides great support to help people such as Shanikah get back on their feet.  Shanika is receiving assistance from Goodwill which is located on-site.  They provide help with resume writing, interview practice and other skills and resources for job training.  With a Boys and Girls Club also on-site, providing child care Shanikah can go on interviews.  Case Managers work with individual family needs.  As long as they are following the program and progressing, they are worked with.  “We hope to be out of here in a few weeks.  I tell them ‘Mommy’s going to try.’”

Shanikah knows that she must set an example for her children.  She teaches them to, “try to hang out with people who are trying to do something with themselves.”  And while she may be busy striving to improve her family’s situation, she is never too busy for her kids.  “If you have kids, talk to them all the time to see how they’re doing,” she says.

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.

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