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Build a neighborhood, not just a place where you live.

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Words Hurt.

words hurt

This image really has stuck in my mind since I first saw it a couple months ago, so I wanted both to share it and save it in a place where I can find it in the future.

found here.

Last fall, one of the required readings for my individual therapy course was a book entitled, Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America by Leon Dash. The book is part biography and part investigative documentary, focusing on generational poverty and exploring the issues in the lives of the extremely poor . Leon Dash,  a reporter for the Washington Post, spent several years interviewing her, spending time with her and her family, and investigating the history of the communities in which she lived. Over time, he went from an objective outside observer, eventually becoming a friend and confidante of his subject, Rosa Lee Cunningham. The book contains many, many individual stories, from the subjects’ perspectives (chapters are focused on Rosa Lee’s parents’, childhood, adulthood, her children, and her grandchildren), topics include: poverty, racism, illiteracy, prostitution, child abuse, misogyny, sexual abuse, physical abuse, homosexuality, incarceration, and methadone clinics. One of the most key topics in the book, is finding who or what exactly is at fault. The most important lesson that I took from this book was a better understanding was the web of bad circumstances, bad events, and bad decisions that are at the heart of cyclical poverty and crime.  Book Discussion here.

The professor made a point to say why she had us read this book: reading/listening to others stories will increase our understanding of and empathy towards our clients, and will help us to better visualize the systems in which our clients exist.

Lately, I’ve found a couple websites I wanted to share, that deal with personal stories, or delve deeper into topics that our clients deal with daily.

StoryCorps is a website with soundbites of personal stories that vary from 3-7 minutes long. They also have a few cartoons to add visuals with the audio (Youtube). Each soundbite comes with a photograph and a brief summary. Funny, inspiring, and sad, these people’s voices will stay with you after the story ends.

Frontline on PBS is an investigate documentary show, many of which are free online to view. The episode Poor Kids, struck a cord with me. I grew up without much, knowing that I shouldn’t ask for things because I knew the answer would always be that we couldn’t afford it, but never have I had to experience the choice of either staying warm at night, or buying food. This show provides an excellent portrayal of poverty from a child’s perspective.

Poor Kids, the three children focused on

What things have you read or watched that delves into pressing social problems of today?

Film: Mary and Max

mary_and_maxHave you seen the film Mary and Max? It is about a young girl in Australia, and her penpal in New York City. It’s revolves around her growing up in a dysfunctional, alcoholic home and him plodding through life eventually being diagnosed with Asperger’s  Syndrome. In the letters they share their views on the world, and tackle a large variety of issues. Their letters are so naive and charming, though sometimes very blunt bordering on crude. I found the movie so moving, I was in tears at the end. The creators do an amazing job illustrating the power of kind words in encouraging a person to grow up and branch out.

How do I begin?

I’ve never written a blog before, and for a while now I’ve been conflicted as to how I should begin. I want to write about the local news, policy issues, my thoughts and feelings, and anything else that I deem relevant to social work and my personal growth. All of that seems too deep for a ‘first post’, so I’ve decided on recalling an event that this past fall; what happened, and my thoughts during, then after.

This past fall (November?), my husband and I were on our way to a late lunch, about 1:30. We had almost reached the drive to exit our complex when we saw a woman fall down on the sidewalk. We both saw it, and he immediately stopped the car and I ran up to her. Originally, my first thought was that she is having a seizure and was disoriented, but when I helped her to her feet, I noticed a lot of blood, on her white coat, her glasses, a smear on her forehead, on her foot/ankle. A plasma donation center is not too far away, so my next thought was ‘oh, she had a bad donation or her blood isn’t clotting’, I asked her if she needed us to call 911 for help, and she insistently denied our help (by this time my husband had joined us and began helping her off the ground too). She had great trouble getting her lost sandal back on, so I was not convinced she didn’t need help, but I let it pass, as I thought the real reason she didn’t want help was because of my husband: he’s a very large man that can be daunting due to his sheer size. We got her on her feet and I gathered her fallen purse for her. As I put it back on her shoulder, I caught a glimpse of what was in her pocket: a mini bottle of wine. I realized that she was probably drunk, it explained her slurred speech and her inability to balance. We let her walk away towards her apartment, and my husband and I got back in the car but parked a distance away, watching, as I was still concerned. She fell again, but quickly got back up. A third time she fell, this time on cement, and I ran to her to help her up. I had my husband stay in the car, as I thought she might be more receptive to assistance from me, rather than a man twice her size. I got her on her feet, and asked again is she needed me to call 911 for her, to which she promptly refused and shooed me away. As soon as I got back in my car, she fell again, this time seemingly losing all semblance of balance as she fell. She fell on soft grass, so I walked to her this time, and asked if she wanted my help as she was sitting up. She seemed a little defeated at this point, saying that I could help her gather her things (her purse flew everywhere when she fell). Talking with her as I helped her gather her things, she kept saying that she was fine, fine, fine. Another mini wine bottle had fallen out of her purse and onto the lawn, I picked it up and showed it to her before putting it back into her purse, while saying “Ma’am, I don’t care (about this) please let me help you to your apartment, I don’t want you to fall down the stairs”. That’s when she said ‘okay’, and let me help her. I got her down the stairs, and got her apartment door open. I helped her into the entryway and fetched her purse and shoes she had left behind on the lawn. She thanked me, saying that ‘there needs to be more people like you around’. I said you’re welcome, and she shut her door. I hopped back into my car with my husband and went to lunch.

Understanding a person’s context is key to understanding a person’s situation. Originally I had thought she was having a seizure, then a blood clotting issue, then realized she was intoxicated. When I said that ‘I didn’t care (about her drinking)’ I had thought she was just concerned about being judged by me for being intoxicated. Today, I feel that this woman had a lot of things going on in her mind. Fear of judgement, being embarrassed by her inability to balance, and probably fear of being arrested for public intoxication if I had called 911.
There are many reasons why people reject assistance even when they need it, and it’s our jobs as social workers to try to know our client’s context, to approach them with a helping hand in such a way that they are willing and able to receive assistance in a way that suits their needs. While I couldn’t get her to seek medical help, I was able to get her safely down the stairs into her apartment.

SLO Homeless

One man's insights into the ups and downs of homelessness.


Est. 2010


The blog for Year 13 English students at Cromwell College.


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