Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Home Van

There are a number of large national organizations that help the homeless--in a variety of wonderful ways. The Salvation Army, Volunteers of America, and Family Promise are among the most effective "nonprofits". There are also, in many communities, smaller and lesser known, but equally effective groups of homeless advocates, who complement the work of the national organizations. It could be said that they fill the cracks in covering the needs of the homeless.

Such is a group of friendly folks in Gainesville, Florida. For the last eight years, this band of volunteers has operated a local, independent homeless advocacy program known as "The Home Van". Organized, and still directed by Arupa Freeman, The Home Van program stresses close, continuing contact with those they help. They have come to know, that to those who are homeless, time and conversation are gifts as important as food and the other neessities of life.

When The Home Van goes on what is called a "drive out", the van usually visits four locations, where the volunteers distribute soup, sandwiches, other non-perishable food, toiletries, clothing, blankets and whatever else has been donated. Volunteers then listen to the special needs of their homeless friends.

The Home Van operation is funded entirely by donations; neither requesting nor receiving government assistance. There is no one involved with The Home Van who receives any payment or compensation. Should you be of a mind to help, I will happily provide you with contact information.

Last year, while in Gainesville for speaking engagements, I was invited to go on a "drive out" with the home van. I documented that experience in an editorial which appeared in The Gainesville Sun on April 13, 2009. That editorial follows below.....


It was a Thursday afternoon, a few weeks back; the first day of my first visit to Gainesville. I had just arrived at the home of Arupa and Bob Freeman, when I was followed through the door by a lady named Ann Marie. She was toting a container of chili; five gallons worth. Soon came Liz, with pans of corn bread, and then Katey, and Bill, and other volunteers who are part of an effort to help the homeless called "The Home Van". I had heard about it from Gainesville resident, Dr. Malcolm Sanford, while traveling on a Greyhound bus. I learned that "The Home Van" has local legendary status--partially achieved during one very cold winter, when a call for help produced "the great blanket tidal wave". As one who has lived, and then written about the homeless life, I was intrigued. and I wrangled myself an invitation to tag along on a drive out. That evening, food and other necessities of life were passed out in four locations. What impressed me most was another gift that homeless persons treasure--friendship! Many of those homeless persons I met in Gainesville told me what the volunteers already knew. The fact that someone cares, and is eager to spend time socializing as equals, means more than the food and the blankets. That is what sets this effort apart from many others, and that is what makes "The Home Van" special!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Remembering Senator Byrd

This morning, when I learned of the passing of Senator Robert Byrd, I felt the deep sadness that is usually reserved for the death of a close friend or family member. But this was someone very special, and today, throughout the state of West Virginia, it would be difficult to find someone who doesn't share my sense of loss. At a time when politicians in general, and members of congress in particular, are looked upon with disdain by most Americans, Senator Byrd has remained beloved by his constituents.

For more than sixty years, he has been a representative of his people in the truest and best meaning of the word. For the past 57 years, he has promoted and protected the interests of West Virginia in Washington, first for six years in the House of Representatives, and then, for more than half a century, in the United States Senate.

Media reports of Senator Byrd's passing are full of many interesting, and a few amazing facts: He is the longest-serving member of Congress in American history; He was, at the time of his death, third in the line of succession for the Presidency; He was a historian who literally wrote the book on the U.S Senate; He was an acknowledged authority on the United States Constitution, and he always carried a copy on his person; and during his time in Washington, he secured an astounding $3 billion in federal funding for West Virginia.

But there is so much more about Senator Byrd that is not on CNN, or NPR, or in the newspapers. I guess it's what you might call "the little things" that come to mind in looking back. I have memories of Robert Byrd from my childhood--and that's really going back. I recall cardboard posters, with the candidate's picture, and a simple message, "Vote For Robert Byrd". You couldn't go anywhere without seeing one of his posters tacked to a telephone pole. That was when television was still in its infancy, and voters were reached through radio, and those posters. I remember, also, Robert Byrd, the candidate for local office, and later on, Robert Bird, the Congressional candidate, entertaining folks at political rallies with his fiddle and his country songs.

How long ago was that? Well, Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of Great Britain, and Stalin still ruled the Soviet Union. America was between wars, a brief five- year hiatus between World War II and the Korean War.

I remember the Presidential election of 1952, when Dwight D. Eisenhower won in a landslide, while, in West Virginia, Robert Byrd fought off the Republican coattails and became a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives. I remember, too, his homespun speeches, which in everyday language, promised a better day for poverty-ridden West Virginia. And I remember, as he began to deliver and fulfill his promise; steering appropriations into West Virginia for buildings and highways and bridges. Senator Byrd became known as the "King of Pork" for his efforts in securing monies for projects in West Virginia. It was a title that he, and his constituents relished.

The Senator's accomplishments are many. He was a leading proponent of campaign finance reform, and was largely responsible for the bill's passage. He was one of only 23 Senators to vote against going to war with Iraq, warning his Senate colleagues against "blind" authorization of military action. He is credited with gathering the necessary votes for approval of the Panama Canal Treaty.

But like all people, Senator Byrd was not without fault. Early on in life he opposed the civil rights movement, and for a brief time, he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. He later condemned the Klan, and said that going with the crowd to join the Klan was the biggest mistake of his life. There is telling evidence of the sincerity of his regret in the fact that in 2008, he supported a man of color, Barack Obama; while the majority of the West Virginia electorate went for John McCain.

What Senator Robert Byrd will mostly be remembered for is the sum total of a lifetime of effort and accomplishment on behalf of his country and his state. America has lost a true patriot; an achieving public servant; and we, who call West Virginia "home", have lost our champion;, our friend.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Longest War

The title of this column could well refer to the present conflict in Afghanistan, which the media has been reminding us is now the longest war in American history. But no, this column is about another place, and another time, long ago, when the United States fought to a stalemate in "the forgotten war".

It was sixty years ago today, June 25, 1950; when North Korea launched the attack on South Korea that started the Korean War. At the time, I was participating in a Boy Scout summer camp, deep in the wooded mountains of West Virginia. Although I was far removed from daily newspapers, and even though there was no 24/7 news cycle back then, I accrued lasting memories, by way of the portable radios that provided a steady flow of reports. Young and old, from "Tenderfeet" to counselors, had their ears glued to those radios, as the United States responded to the invasion by coming to the aid of South Korea.

In the next three years, more than 34,000 U.S. servicemembers gave their lives in bloody, brutal battles that often included hand to hand combat. The Korean War was a success in that North Korea's attempt to put the entire Korean Peninsula under communist rule was thwarted, and as a result, the South Korea of today is a thriving democracy, with the fifteenth largest economy in the world.

Although the guns fell silent, and an armistice was signed in 1953, we are still technically at war, and tensions remain high. At present, 28,000 Americans remain on vigil to protect freedom in a far away land. It could be argued that "the forgotten war" is also the longest war.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A BP Boycott Won't Help--It Will Hurt!

A reader's comment about yesterday's column is worth further discussion. The comment posted following, "The Ripple Effect Of An Oil Spill", rightfully discourages Americans from hopping aboard the BP boycott bandwagon. Our reader reminds folks that a boycott could adversely affect BP's already free-falling stock to the point of bankruptcy, which is just about the worse thing that could happen, in that it would result in U.S. taxpayers picking up the tab for the oil spill clean-up.

There are a couple more good reasons for not boycotting BP. The BP gas stations around the country are not owned or operated by British Petroleum. BP sold those years ago; so a boycott would hurt American independent gas station owners, as well as BP. Furthermore, bankruptcy, or any further deep drop in BP stock, would hurt shareholders, of whom many are American investors, while many more are Britons whose pensions are tied to BP stock.

As hard as it is to do, we have to root for British Petroleum--not only to stay afloat, but to prosper, so that they will have both the incentive, and the ability to pay for as much of the mess they have created as possible. BP will never be able to make things right, as they have promised. The damage is too far-flung. We have to squeeze every nickel we can from BP, without putting them out of business. A boycott is not the answer.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Ripple Effect Of An Oil Spill

Almost everything we do in this life has a ripple effect that can touch more people than we are aware of. There is a ripple effect to an act of kindness; and we are seeing now that there is a ripple effect to an act of greed. The Gulf oil spill was the result of a giant corporation cutting corners in order to save money. The horrendous explosion that never should have happened caused ripples that will affect countless people--some for years to come. With the death of eleven good men, a ripple went out to the families who lost a loved one--and acquired a pain that will linger with them for the rest of their lives. That brought another ripple of grief to all who are close to those families. A ripple crossed the Atlantic, affecting people in Great Britain who are unfortunate enough to have pension plans that are tied to British Petroleum stock. A ripple is now crossing the Gulf of Mexico, on its way to polluting the waters and beaches of Florida; which will take a heavy toll on the tourist business, and take away the livelihood of those who live and work in coastal areas. British Petroleum has promised to make everything right. It's a promise that will not be kept. The ripple effect of this company's greed makes that impossible.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Billionaires Club

If you are a politician, or if you are a member of the media, or if you are just a regular citizen--and you advocate a redistribution of wealth in America--you will be labeled a socialist or a communist, and you will be called a variety of other unflattering names. That is a given. But what if you are wealthy--very wealthy--and you suggest taking from the rich to help out the poor? We are about to find out.

Two of the world's wealthiest men, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are planning to form what can best be described as a billionaires club. Gates and Buffett, who have already pledged the bulk of their fortunes to charitable causes, hope to raise--are you ready for this?--SIX HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS, for worthwhile causes. They will make their pitch to America's 403 billionaires, hoping that publicity and peer pressure will open up fat cat wallets. There is no need to feel sorry for the billionaires who join "the club", as they will obviously retain enough wealth to allow them, and their heirs to live in luxury. This all seems unbelievable, but it is well beyond the rumor stage. Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

This Morning At The Barber Shop.....

That doggone bathroom mirror of mine keeps finding something wrong, and this A.M. it told me I couldn't procrastinate any longer on getting a haircut. So after breakfast, I ambled around the corner and took my seat in Tina's no-appointments, walk-ins only, unisex barber shop. I was number four in line on arrival, and as those ahead of me got their haircuts and departed, other ladies and gentlemen came in, so that the gathering remained at four or five customers throughout my stay. No one got fidgety, and no one gave any other indication of minding the wait; and that's because there was constant chatter that was interesting enough to keep all eyes off the clock.

Eventually the conversation turned to politics, and there was no disagreement there. It was unanimous, "Throw the rascals out!" (The actual language was quite a bit saltier than that.) There was a nod of approval from one soft-spoken gentleman; before he offered a word of caution, suggesting that the electorate consider who it is that they are voting for; while considering even more carefully, what they are voting for. A young lady disagreed, saying that, whatever the issue, anyone new would be better than what we have.

With that, I couldn't resist jumping in; bringing up the primary election in Nevada, where Sharron Angle came from nowhere in recent weeks to win in a landslide; becoming the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. I put forth my opinion that those who voted for her could not possibly know what they were voting for. The young lady appeared to be somewhat agitated in responding, "I saw Sharron Angle on TV, and I am sure that whatever she does, it will be for the good of the people". I paused for a moment, wanting to choose my words carefully, so as not to offend anyone, or come off as a "know it all". I simply said, "Sharron Angle has repeated over and over that she wants to get rid of social security". For a few minutes thereafter, the silence was deafening.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Kind Of Funny The Things We Remember

Ever wonder why we remember seemingly insignificant events; while it takes a reminder from someone else to recall a happening that logic says we should not have forgotten? I mulled that one over last week, after receiving an envelope of clippings from Chuck Koehler, a high school classmate. As soon as I saw Chuck's name, the memory of a long ago football game rushed front and center in my mind. It's strange how that game has stayed with me through the years, because I wasn't there. I was in attendance for a lot of exciting high school football; important games that perhaps I should remember, but do not. So what was so special about a game I didn't attend, that it would stay with me. Well, it was a Friday night game, in which my school, Triadelphia High, rallied late to nip Wellsburg High. I missed it because I had to work that evening. Next day, I heard, in thrilling detail, how my boys got the winning touchdown by handing the ball to Chuck, play after play, until he got it into the end zone. I recall being excited about the victory, and the way it was won; but I was oh, so disappointed that I hadn't been there. It was kind of like the agony and the ecstasy, and I guess that's why it's the most memorable game--I never saw.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Happy, Humble Moment

Since the publication of "Homeless Isn't Hopeless", I've had a running love affair with libraries. It all began, of course, with the library at Florida Keys Community College, where most of the book was written. Then there was the placement of "Homeless Isn't Hopeless" on the shelves at the Denver Public Library--twice rated the number one public library among the 9,000 in America. And there was the help creating this blog, which I received at the Parmly Public Library in Billings, Montana. There are so many more libraries, where I worked, and received encouragement and help. But no library experience has given me a bigger thrill than learning that the Ohio County Public Library in my hometown, Wheeling, West Virginia, has purchased "Homeless Isn't Hopeless".