Not so joyful over at Joyful Harvest…needing help

Times are truly rough and for those of us in the helping professions we are really feeling the effects of the economy. I had been fortunate that the agency I run had been more or less insulated from the economic downturn; in fact we saw our revenues increase at the same time we started seeing a surge in the number of kids and families seeking our services.
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I talk a lot on this blog, over the years I have shared my ups, my downs and everything in between but today I am totally going to expose myself because the agency I run does a lot of good and we need help.
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This is the agency I run, yes it is faith based but that aspect is more internal to me as the Executive Director and the board. Currently we serve youth and families from the Sudan, Iraq, Mexico and yes, Maine. We operate on a budget that is a pittance compared to many social service agencies, last year we served 301 individuals in all our programs on an operating budget of $57,000! I donate a good portion of my time; currently I am paid for 25 hours though I work well over that in any given week. I have one paid part time staff member and one staff member who receives a small stipend, we rely on partnerships with local agencies, universities, faith organizations and community members to provide services and support.
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For years we have been working out of a small and cramped space but after months of negotiations with one of the biggest developers in our area we have secured a space that will take us from 1500 very cramped square feet to 5000 square feet. Our monthly rent will only increase by $5 a month though we have build out costs for the new space, even that yours truly was able to get halved from $6000 to $3000!
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Many of you reading this don’t live in Maine and are probably wondering why is she sharing this, well I am sharing it because I have a voice and am hoping that maybe just maybe someone might be kind enough to help us out. We started this budget year with a $20,000 deficit that frankly is not getting better. Grants and partnerships that we have come to depend on, are no longer available, in fact the town we are in cut all youth funding instead investing it in the local food banks and pantries. Times are tough. I see it daily as a good share of my kids come from food insecure families, for more and more kids that snack is dinner. Once upon a time we had no food cost as the local food pantry used to supply our snack needs but with 200+ families a week coming in, they can no longer assist us! As a result to properly feed these kids, it takes $50-75 a week! I cut bananas in thirds to stretch snack.
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Even our annual Kid’s Shopping and Pancake Event that last year distributed 537 gifts and fed 163 folks is no longer immune to the economic downturn. It’s a program where kids get to “shop” for items for their parents, and get them gift wrapped and the whole family enjoys a full breakfast that is served to them plus a visit from Santa. Calls from families seeking a respite from the daily crush of financial disparity have been coming into my office since before Thanksgiving but the support is not there. In past years the breakfast had local sponsors, this year I am personally putting in my money along with my board to ensure the breakfast happens. Everyone needs just one morning they can relax and laugh without pressure.
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I am asking readers of this blog to consider giving to the Joyful Harvest Neighborhood Center. We continue to look at fundraising ideas and I am a damn good grant writer but the reality is that being in Maine, many larger grants are not available to us as we don’t have the mass that a Boston or New York has. Our board is restructuring and moving ahead we feel confident we can get through this hump but it will take time. You can look at our website, we are listed on Guidestar so our 990 is available, and if you have any questions ask away. If you are local, consider volunteering, either for our Kid’s Shopping and Pancake Event or long term.

I admit writing this post has been one of the hardest things I have ever written, but letting down the kids and families that I serve is not an option. This job stopped being a job to me about 6 months after I started, seeing how much harder it is for the rural poor in this country is something I had no idea about, but now that I do I am driven to do all I can to make sure these kids have their needs met. If that means embarrassing myself or alienating readers that’s fine too, but I hope it doesn’t do that.

The Real Maine

It’s been busy around my parts the past few days, on a personal note elder boy has arrived home for the summer which is always cause for celebration at my house as you can imagine. Seems like just yesterday he was a wee lad like his sister, now he is almost a legal adult with facial hair who drives…where does the time go?

On a professional note, the community that I work in was visited by crime and I have been working to deal with the impact in our community. Which brings me to today’s theme…the real Maine. I love reading blogs, especially fellow bloggers who live in Maine. Maine is the type of place that its easy to romanticize, after all when you think of Maine, images of beaches, lobster and all things nice seem to come to mind. Its very common for people to see Maine as this simple and beautiful place to live filled with good times, good people and even good thrift shops.

Yet maybe its because of my line of work but I see a side of Maine on a regular basis that is not nice. In fact its downright cruel, I often compare my work in the inner city of Chicago as not being much different than the work I currently do. I work in a community where the poverty level exceeds fifty percent, where many families face financial insecurity on a regular basis…yet this same community is only mere minutes away from people with great abundance, yet the two communities might as well be thousands of miles away as the folks in the two communities never mix and probably never will.

Yesterday morning as I started my day reading about amazing thrifting in Maine (by the way while there is amazing thrifting in Maine, most of it occurs at antique marts, our basic thrift stores are not bad but frankly the ones in Chicago were better), than I heard this story. In case you aren’t prone to reading the link, its about a crazy Negro who for years has been terrorizing folks in this town who decided to kill a couple of brothers the night before. Yes, I called him a crazy Negro….I have encountered this man and he is ape-shit crazy, though I had no idea just how dangerous he was, I generally went out of way to not have to make contact with him when I saw him on the street.

For the past day, everyone has come out with a story about this man, even the mayor of this town found this man to be crazy and scary. I must admit part of me wanted to laugh, how the hell does one Black guy in a predominantly white town in the whitest state in America get to terrorize folks for almost two decades and never spend much time in the joint despite the fact everyone thought he was a walking time bomb? Part of me wants to say it was political correctness gone awry…but the truth is I don’t know.

Like others I am saddened that lives were lost, though I wonder what made these two young men decide to egg this man on considering his reputation was well known, I figure it had to be youth. When we are young we don’t see the dangers we see when we get older and can look at things more clearly.

Maine despite being known as a lovely place sadly suffers from the same ills as any other place, in fact some of the ills may be worse because of the rural nature of the state. For those who are financially well off it can be a wonderful place, sadly its a place where many often work two and three jobs to make ends meet. This is a condition that is not limited to folks with no education or those people….in Maine even the educated often find themselves working hard to make ends meet, though class makes people use fancy words to dress it up.

So while Maine is nice, I leave you with a snapshot of what the real Maine looks like…as for that crazy Negro Rory Holland, I suspect he won’t be beating the rap this time which is just as well since while diversity is nice, crazy dangerous folks wandering the streets isn’t good for any of us.