Friday, September 10, 2010

What a Day!

"So, what's a day like for you?"

It's a fairly common question I get asked and its really hard to answer because one of the best things about my work is also one of the most challenging: every day is different!

Take yesterday, for instance...

It actually began at 10:00 am. Before that its checking email, checking the blog and making phone calls. At 10:00, I was at the Bill J. Priest Institute for the graduation of our third cohort of trainees from our Paths2Success class. P2S is a technology based 'soft-skills' job training program. It lasts 10 weeks and we graduated our largest class to date with 17 people. In the class participants learn Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel as well as skills that help them all get and keep jobs. Trainees are adults who are unemployed, underemployed, who need to upgrade skills or who need to learn the things that most of us have learned by long years of work experience or with the network of relationships with people concerned with our well being and success. They also learn financial management.

It's always gratifying to see these people and the excitement at their accomplishment. For some its the first time in a long time that they've actually finished anything. And the fact that they have learned and become fairly proficient with a computer gives them a real sense of achievement. Although P2S is not 'jobs driven' (not a program designed for job placement at the end of training), there are many who find jobs before training is complete. In the previous graduating class earlier this summer, more than half of the 16 graduates found employment before graduation. The class is taught in collaboration with the Dallas County Community College District and graduates receive certificates at graduation to mark their success. It's always exciting to see their friends and family come and join them in their celebration and our WorkPaths staff is always excited as well. Every class represents an accomplishment for them as well. Our program director, Andrea Bills and her staff are doing a remarkable job!

After the graduation, I headed to our permanent supportive housing location to check on the progress we are making there. We currently have 105 formerly homeless men and women who, thanks to a grant from HUD, we are able to house in their own apartments. Participants pay 30% of their rent and are provided case management to help them stabilize their lives and achieve levels of self sufficiency. For some that means employment. For others it means going back to school. And for some others, it also means being able to manage health issues that range from mental health conditions to physical health challenges to addiction issues. There are the usual issues to address with apartment life, maintenance and repair issues and our case managers are at times advocates for some of the participants in those issues. Our new program director, Gaylord Thomas is doing a wonderful job at making connections with community and service organizations, churches and law enforcement in an effort to improve the quality of life for our program participants as well as the entire complex.

After that meeting it's nearly 1:00 and I'm headed back to a meeting at our downtown office. A couple who read my recent column on for-profit colleges and universities, want to talk about how to work with us on improving public education. They have wonderful ideas and energy and were excited to hear about doors of opportunity that column and our public awareness efforts are opening up, both within the organization and the community. The couple are going to work with us to help promote one of two screenings our public policy department will co-sponsor in October. The first one, dealing with education, 'Waiting for Superman', will be shown on October 5, at the Magnolia, to be followed by a panel discussion (the second will be on October 22. We'll be screening '9500 Liberty', a documentary about immigration reform). We're excited to have all the help we can and we hope to leverage that into long term support for our other initiatives. Volunteering like this is a great way to get familiar with the breadth of CDM's work.

After that, more email, more phone calls, conversation with staff and then its time for my weekly meeting with my intern from Southern Methodist University's Perkin's School of Theology. For the past three years I've served as Mentor Pastor for Perkin's interns and its always been interesting. I'm hoping they learn something, but I know I learn a lot from the entire process. My goal is to give them a rich experience of service out of which they are able to exposit practical theological implications. Normally I assign them work for their nine months in a variety of our programs. This year I'm doing the same, but I'm limiting the number of programs I'm assigning our intern. She's working with me in public policy, initially and with our activities coordinator for residents at CityWalk@Akard. Our weekly meeting is to get her verbatim observations of any experience she's had during her time with us. This time the subject is about her observations of one of the planning meetings we have had as our public policy department is working with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Dallas and the United Way, as we organize what we're calling the Anti-Poverty Coalition, the goal of which is to get 250,000 people out of poverty by 2020. The effort will involve business leaders, other non-profit organizations, service organizations and the religious leadership throughout the city. An exciting proposition that kicks off next week.

My interns from Perkins have indeed challenged my own religious and cultural perspectives - in a good way. They have all been women (one, the wife of an adjudicatory head whom I know well), one African-American, two white, one Christian Methodist Episcopal, another United Methodist, and the current intern is Episcopalian. I told you: I'm learning a great deal!

Just as I finish this meeting (you guessed it, I'm running behind!). It's time for a 4:00 meeting with a city leader and the head of Unify South Dallas the coalition of south Dallas organizations to educate, organize and engage south Dallas residents in economic and neighborhood development initiatives that impact their communities. This meeting is in preparation for the community meeting on Saturday and the leader is meeting with us to give us guidance and advice on next steps in our efforts to get Texas Department of Transportation to change its plans for the redesign of the S.M. Wright Freeway, from a six lane highway to a four lane boulevard allowing for greater redevelopment opportunities in the area. It's a meeting that showed us that we're on the right track and we've got a better understanding of the further due diligence necessary to continue promoting the plan that some of us have been working on for more than two years.

When I finished this meeting, after a break, there's a few more emails to respond to, chats with staff, our Human Resources Director and CFO, stop by to congratulate me on an award that Larry and I will receive in November from the Dallas Historical Society.

Soon after that I leave to go to Roseland Homes public housing development to meet with the SMU intern, our Vista worker and my public policy coordinator, Jessica to begin recruiting volunteers to work on our Voter Registration, Voter Education, Get Out the Vote effort. While I'm there, I excuse myself to have a quick conversation with our Education Director, Janet Morrison, to discuss some staffing programming issues (we've been playing phone tag all day) and then back to meet with the recruits to talk with them about our effort. They are all eager to get started (about six of them, not including staff) and are committed to get deputized to register their neighbors to vote and recruiting more volunteers to help. I think we were all a little surprised at their enthusiasm and their willingness to commit. But then, I think its still true that even we tend to stereotype the people we work with.

By then, its almost 7:00 pm. In case you're wondering, you didn't miss it. No lunch (I'm starving!). And, only a few spot breaks throughout the day, as I get away from the computer and people as much as possible, but at best they amount to 10 minutes at a time.

Yesterday wasn't as long as others (Tuesday was longer!). Wasn't as busy as some (that's today - busier and longer). And there are days that don't feel as productive. But the days are hardly ever dull.

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