Updated: Nov 18, 2018
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Last Friday we met for another LOUD session of “share a meal, give a meal” where a group of pretty amazing kids aged 5-9 gathered to spread their awesome within our community (loud may seem irrelevant, however, with 10 kids, guitars and a drum set hanging around, LOUD has become the soundtrack to these sessions, but I digress...). We engaged the kids in some meaningful conversations, we became informed, and we provided some support to our friends at the Inn from the Cold and The Calgary Drop In.
Previously, we discussed The Calgary Drop In, an amazing organization providing supports to some of the most vulnerable adults within our community. This past week we focused on The Inn from the Cold, another agency in the Calgary area “provide(ing) the instrumental needs for survival including shelter, nutritious food, clothing, medical care and access to education for children and their families”. Families-including kids-58% kids to be exact. We answered amazing questions like, why does the DI only help adults and the Inn only help families, why do we need to help them anyways, and why do we need to donate…socks??
So, why DOES the DI only support adults, and the Inn only support families? Well, because the needs are very different between a single adult and a family and the needs are there. The DI does not have the capacity and supports to include families with the number of adults they serve and the Inn is positioned to adequately support families, to support children and their parents. The needs are GREAT in our city of 1 million+ people, and with 1/10 people living in poverty, we need the supports of the DI just as we need the supports of the Inn (their STATS don’t lie!). But the thing is, they need all of US community members to support them, to give monetarily or with a helping hand, to volunteer, to have the conversations when and however we can. So what better place to start that conversation than with our most valuable resource-our kids, our current change makers and future leaders.
58% of shelter guests were children. Average of 27 families per day. Average length of stay in the shelter was 37 days. 18% of shelter guests were new Canadians-Inn from the Cold Stats
So now, what answer do you give to the question “why do we need to help” to an inquisitive group of 5-9 years olds, some who would prefer to browse the internet and others who would prefer to play with the toys surrounding them. We simply answer, because we can. Right now we have arms that can make sandwiches, right now we can provide financially by buying a few pairs of socks, and right now we feel emotionally, mentally and physically capable of giving some time to gather and make a small, but impactful change (they all, thankfully, agreed, that yes we can! Or maybe some reluctantly agreed, but the eagerness to help once we got working, was contagious:)
By focusing on our similarities while acknowledging our differences, we can bridge their understanding on what it would feel like to be without a home. We all agreed we need a safe home to sleep in, we all need food, and love. We discussed what it would feel like to sleep in close proximity to other families you do not know, in a home that is not your own. What would it feel like to not have privacy after a bad day at school, or when feeling frustrated or angry with your siblings? In a shelter, where would you get your quiet time to sit and read and re energize away from others that we all often like and need? You wouldn’t. We discussed the challenges of not having a house full of belongings, toys, crafts, or your own space to play, a space to invite your school friends over for lunch or to play some battleship. What does all this feel like?
As adults, we all know what that feels like for ourselves and what that looks like for our children, let alone the immense stress that is present during financial uncertainties and food and shelter insecurities and how that stress translates to their children, which it most certainly does.
This time, we read the story, “Lily and the Paper Man” about a young girl, Lily, who becomes afraid of walking home from school with her mother after passing a man selling the newspaper. The man who sells the news paper for $1, who dresses different then her-with holes in his shoes, no socks on his feet, and who sounds different then her-an audible loud wheeze as he breaths. Words such as “fear and nervousness” are brought up when we recognize how Lily initially feels, and then words like “worry and empathy” join the discussion once we see her drive to help the same man who in the cold winter months still wears the same old shoes with holes, no socks and thin jacket.
Empathy and compassion-how do we teach these things to kids? Is reading them stories enough to do the trick? According to roots of action, “Children who participate in programs that teach kindness, respect, empathy, and compassion and who have families that reinforce those strengths at home develop the muscles they need to become civically-engaged adolescents and adult”. Muscles, like an arm muscle that becomes flaccid from under use, or gets bigger from exercise, we need to USE these muscles for them to grow. Which means it takes work and time and patience. As Brene Brown mentions, "Empathy FUELS connection", but we need to provide an environment for our kids that will help them understand another's situation and perspective, helps them to connect, and bridge that gap of understanding, bridge that gap of us and them.
I think it can be overwhelming thinking about how to teach our children about these topics, especially towards those who appear to be different then us, who have different lifestyles, or different beliefs then our own. But just like an infant learning to crawl, it takes baby steps, and baby steps are good! We live in such a “results” driven world- wanting outcomes now, but to grow roots in our understanding, it requires time, love, tending to, like a garden that starts from a seed. Some topics are so foreign to one person and appear to be common sense to another that it can be very divisive, who is right? But I think that if we sit with each other and really listen, really try and connect based on our similarities, in baby steps, we will quickly realize that we are each other’s greatest resource and that connection can happen, and we can grow in our compassion and empathy for another, no matter how different we may appear to be.
"You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step". Martin Luther King
Currently, the Inn from the Cold is “asking Calgarians to make a donation this holiday season to help raise $2,000,000 to cover costs incurred by the increased demand for emergency shelter services in 2018. (They) have been operating at/over capacity 89% of the time this year, but have also experienced a decline in donations.”(taken from the In from the Cold site).
$2,000,000 is a HUGE number. Perhaps a single individual with that kind of pocket change will bring that amount forward, but more then likely, it will be the cumulative amount given by a community of donors…a few dollars by each individual quickly adds up-baby steps. By setting aside an hour to discuss these topics with our kids, to donate socks, to sit as a small group and make a few sandwiches together for the greater good of our whole community, these kids worked out their empathy and compassion muscles. And let me tell you, if it wasn’t for me and my poor math skills requiring an emergency run out for more bread (let’s pretend that was the 1st time that happened!), these kids whipped out 100 sandwiches in record time, with plenty of opportunity to still enjoy dessert as a team, and well, make some LOUD music.
Throw back to my first blog post about, "why starlings?":"Like the starlings during a murmeration, our small individual actions have the power to influence the next 6-7 people we interact with daily making for beautiful transitions within our communities. Supported communities starting with just one person. A murmeration, have you."
Kid President and Grover nail it in their pep talk when they say “helping is easy and you can make a difference. It's our time to show the world what awesome looks like".
So go on now, have a great weekend spreading that awesome of yours!!!