Friday, October 26, 2012

I hear you.

I hear you.

You are not alone.

Let me encourage you.

These are three statements that I heard spoken to one man yesterday and regularly hear from our staff members.

That these were some of the first words spoken to him after expressing his frustration, reminded me how proud I am to be at Able Works, with our hard working and compassionate staff.

Oftentimes the community members we serve are indeed frustrated, upset, and often feel hopeless. Frankly, most of them are justified in feeling this way having been taken advantage of numerous times by banks or refinancing scams. Whenever they interact with individuals, our staff is able to reach out and connect on a level that is deeper than just looking over their paperwork. They connect on a heart level and really live out our mission of equipping people with financial education, life skills, assets, and enabling them to live free from oppression and poverty.

Working at a non-profit, it’s not often easy to see the fruit of your labor. Yet sometimes, the fruit isn’t necessarily all that matters. Sometimes a home can’t be saved, or a financial situation not readily fixed, but this isn’t our only metric for success. What’s most important, as the result is to let these people be heard and encourage them when encouragement can’t be found anywhere else.

What would it look like to view the problems of those around me not as an opportunity to achieve some result, but realize that by simply listening, I have an opportunity to really connect and speak life and encouragement into others?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fighting homelessness.

Our LiveAble program provides counseling for first-time homebuyers, individuals seeking to rebuild their credit, and current homeowners facing foreclosure and homelessness. Our LiveAble team does this through workshops, participating in resource fairs for those facing foreclosure, and meeting with clients individually to provide one on one support.

Seeing desperate homeowners in our office each day and hearing them tell their stories outside my office makes it easy to see the good our team is doing. However, it isn’t always as easy for me to understand what our team actually does to save these homes. In the month I’ve been working here, I’ve realized my heart has fully grasped the emotions and heartache of this but my brain hasn’t fully understood the process leading up to it.

Recently, I spent some time with our housing counselors to try to better understand the foreclosure process and where they enter to help save homes. I realized, “Gosh, everyone should have the opportunity to know this.”
This is what they said: 
At Able Works, the clients we serve are applying for a loan modification as a result of being in danger of losing their homes and sometimes facing homelessness. (Modifying their loan allows them to more successfully make the payments.)
After our housing counselors submit a full financial package (which can be a very tedious and detail specific process), the client’s lender will review the information and send it to the underwriter. At this point, the underwriter decides whether or not the client is approved to move forward with a modification. If the modification is approved, the lender will typically send the homeowner a trial payment plan lasting three months. During this time the homeowner is responsible for making all payments on time. Once the payment plan is over, the file will return to the underwriter and the modification will likely be finalized – allowing our client, the homeowner, to remain in their home.

Due to the bureaucratic and confusing nature of the banking system, the loan modification process is one that can take up to several months, sometimes even over a year. During this time, our counselors are providing as much emotional support as they are financial counseling to these families.

It is amazing to me that these counselors can be working with clients for a long time and the subject matter is certainly not easy to handle. They are fighting for these homes alongside the homeowners and providing hope without judgment. I get emotional just writing about this and our team does it every single day.

I hope, like me, you were able to gain some perspective on the foreclosure process as well as understand the great work our LiveAble team is doing on a daily basis. They are truly saving families from homelessness and the emotional impact that causes.

--Laura Gross

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What's so great about a marching band?

Growing up I was a part of the high school marching band. Every Friday night during the football games, we would play the school fight song and march during the half time show. The marching band rallied the community in showing our support and pride in the team. Despite the fact that during my four years of high school our football team won only a handful of games, we continued to show up every Friday and support them.

By my senior year, it was clear we weren't going to be State Champions, but the marching band still showed up to support the team. Part of that was because it was required for band students, but I like to think it was because we believed the best in our team and hoped for their success.

The principle of believing in one's best has remained with me. I love to believe the best in people and get excited about organizations striving to do the same. This is what initially drew me to Able Works.

Able Works strives to equip individuals to fulfill their greatest human potential. As an organization, we seek to help people be free from poverty and oppression. We provide them with life skills and assets, including someone believing for their best. It would be easy to believe that my job, similar to supporting a losing football team, is a requirement. But Able Works continues to hope for people's success and truly believes in the individuals they are helping.

It isn’t just a job when you work at Able Works. You work here because you believe in it and want to be a part of making your community and the people in it better. And in doing so you believe with your heart and soul in the individuals you are helping. I work here for these same reasons. I want to continue to believe the best in people like we believed in my high school football team. I want to hope for their success.

Laura Gross

Friday, August 3, 2012

Overcoming Odds

If you are anything like me, every four years I loose a lot of sleep, my internal clock gets messed up, and watch more Television then I do any other time of year.  Why?  The Olympics!  

I was raised in a family where the Olympics were a mandatory tradition.   We have been faithful to watch the Opening Ceremonies and as many events as our schedules allow. It is part of the DNA of my family.  My maternal grandmother and grandfather participated in the 1948 London games.   They were both track stars from Canada. My grandfather was a hurdler, and my grandmother ran the Women's 4x4 Relay.  My grandparents met at the Olympics, fell in love and got married shortly after.  So, it isn't an understatement to say it's in my genes.

Now 64 years later, the Olympics are once again in London.  My grandfather is no longer with us, but I was blessed to be able to watch the Opening Ceremonies with my grandmother.  She kept saying, "These are so much better than mine.  They made us hold candles and let a few doves fly free." The 1948 games were right after World War II, so nobody, especially England, had any money for fancy torches, costumes or light shows.

But, there is something more about the Olympics than family history or the pizazz of the Opening Ceremony.  I think what draws me in every four years is the human spirit.  The chance to see records broken and history change.  I love watching people beat the odds.  To see the underdog win.  To see the once broken, made whole.  To see dreams come true.  This is why I work at Able Works.

Able Works cares about our community beating the odds.  We care about broken people becoming whole.  We care about seeing the under-resourced rise up and fulfill their dreams.  We coach, educate, lead, and cheer for individuals to break records.  To change history.  

I will never be an Olympian.  I may not ever get a chance to go to the Olympics as a spectator, but everyday I hear stories about the power of the human spirit, and I have a part in it. I guess you could say Able Works is like Coca-Cola or P&G, we are proud sponsors of East Palo Alto and the human spirit.  


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It's The Little Things

East Palo Alto, CA, is a city with its own personality.  When I first relocated from San Diego, I found it very difficult to understand the culture and experienced some culture shock.  East Palo Alto challenged me to find joy in the little things, and I’m learning to be thankful for that education. 

Recently, I was in a local grocery store, Mi Pueblo, and I met a cashier named Tanya.  We had a few conversations over the course of a couple weeks when I would come to shop.  I really appreciated her warm and open conversation.  Some time went by, and I started to notice Tanya wasn’t around much anymore.  I wondered if she got a new job, moved or if she was sick. Sadly, those thoughts about her absence at work had to stay thoughts, because I had no way of figuring out where to find answers.  Until a few days ago when I was driving home from Mi Pueblo. I was leaving the parking lot, and before I turned at the stop sign, I heard my name coming from a house on the corner of Clarke Ave. It was Tanya. I got out of my car and she asked me, “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in Mi Pueblo in a while.” I thought to myself, “I was just thinking the same thing about you!”

Tanya is a 23-year-old, African-American woman.  As we began to catch up, she shared that she would have noticed me at grocery store if we were there at the same time, because she predominately serves Hispanics. So when she sees an African-American, she remembers them. The conversation quickly led to her sharing about her life, her son, her family, and catching up on what she has been doing. She invited me into her house to meet her son and siblings, and we exchanged phone numbers. In hindsight, I can see that she was genuinely excited to see me, because later on, she mentioned that she has been looking for a friend.  I think when she saw me in Mi Pueblo she was thought to herself, “Hmm…maybe we can be friends.”

From my experience working with youth in East Palo Alto, I understand that most of the community aren’t used to people exhibiting trust, loyalty, or genuine friendship. I keep that knowledge in my mind as I interact with the community. Tanya pressed a little for my phone number and asked what I did in my free time. I could sense that she was really seeking friendship. She asked if there are certain times that I don’t answer my phone, to which I replied, “Outside of work times, there’s not a time that I don’t answer my phone or respond to a text.” I told her she can test that idea by texting me at 5 o’clock in the morning, and see if I'll respond. She told me she would test it, and she did! That small act of responding to her text was my way of showing her that not everyone is disloyal or dishonest.

When I moved to East Palo Alto from San Diego, I didn’t realize how much selfishness I had hidden inside me. It’s taken a lot of spontaneous interactions with people like Tanya to take me out of my comfort zone, and show me that it’s one thing to claim ‘relocation, reconciliation, and social justice,’ then it is to actually take those concepts and actively apply them to my life. It’s the little things that make a big difference. Little things like my interaction with Tanya. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

New HouseAble Project- Clarke Ave

Last Friday, June 29, Able Works acquired a new property on Clarke Avenue in East Palo Alto.  The home, previously owned by a national bank, has been vacant for the last three months and is in need of major cosmetic maintenance and renovations.  Over the next 3-4 months, Able Works will transform this property back into a safe home.  It will then be made available to a working class family in our community.  This is part of Able's vision to restore neighborhoods and provide opportunities for individuals to rise above poverty.

HouseAble is looking to assemble work teams to tackle some of the less-skilled projects including; exterior painting, landscaping, interior painting and cleaning.  Experienced trades people should also contact us to discuss how they can participate.  This project is scheduled to last through September 2012.  If you are interested in helping this summer, please email

HouseAble seeks to help our community build assets through sensible homeownership.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How "Interesting"

When people hear that I want to teach dance in inner cities, often times their response is, “Oh! Well, how interesting. That’s cool.” Sometimes I wonder what these people mean when they say ‘interesting’. Are they using that word to describe my desire to teach inner city youth, or are they altogether ignoring the inner city context, and referring to my desire to teach dance as ‘interesting’? Something in me believes that it is the former rather than the later that makes that phrase pass their lips.

Students who were raised in the studio – most likely from middle/upper class families – tend to see dance as a hobby; something that they choose to do out of a list of many other potential possibilities. However, in the inner city, the list of opportunities is not as extensive. This is the main thing that drives my passion to teach dance to these students. Urban students aren’t sitting at home conflicted about what to do with their day due to the overwhelming options being presented. These students are conflicted because there are no options.  They do the same monotonous things day in and day out.

I grew up in a single parent home, and I am familiar with having limitations put on my desired hobbies because of financial struggles. Although I wasn’t raised in the inner city, and I am not personally familiar with most of the situations that my kids had/have to face, I do understand limitations.  My break came in high school when I was given the opportunity to join the dance team and it changed my life. Dance became a way to express myself, and took me outside of the areas in my life that hurt. When people say to me, “Oh! Well, how interesting. That’s cool,” I respond with, “You’re right. It is cool," because I understand what it’s like to want something to do.  It brings me joy to share my talents with students who, even if for the sake of having nothing else to do, will soak up what I’m teaching them.  Maybe they will find that dance is something that can bring them into their own place of healthy expression. And that, to me, is ‘interesting.’ 

-Shanae Green

Thursday, May 24, 2012

“No One Can Live Your Life but You!”

-Perspective Through The Lens of FutureProfits-

            Most people would agree that there is a distinct difference in maturity between freshman and senior students in high school. Evidenced by behavior, level of respect for authority, self-esteem, and so many additional factors that speak into ones’ development. With this knowledge, some might say that the hope to reach a group ranging from freshman to seniors using one curriculum is outlandish. Some might say it’s impossible, and altogether shy away from the idea. However, FutureProfits™ is not a part of that ‘some’.  There is a sort of knowledge that can be useful for anyone, and FutureProfits™ presents such information.
With the basic idea that no one can live someone else’s life, comes a curriculum that teaches students in high school how to have control of their money. This past year FutureProfits™ has served freshman through seniors, and has seen many success stories about students who have decided to take ownership of the curriculum taught to them. Unit 3 of the curriculum discusses student loans (i.e. interest rates, types of loans to look for, questions to ask yourself before getting a loan), and brings awareness to the value of education. After this was presented, many students – from freshman to seniors – mentioned how much more aware they were of the benefits of getting a student loan for themselves. Prior to this being taught, many students were held captive by the notion that all loans are bad, and were therefore interpreting their pursuit of education as a fantasy, rather than a reality. In short, they’ve decided to go against the grain of what they thought, and have decided to start pursuing education after high school! Students are beginning to believe that no one can live their lives but themselves. Their questions and continual intrigue prove this. 
-Shanae Green, FutureProfits Program Assistant

Monday, March 12, 2012

Parenting and Money Decisions

Fuller Youth Institute recently published an article entitled, "Show Me (And Talk To Me About) The Money." Working with youth AND money, it definitely caught my eye.

So although I'm not a parent, I want to take a minute to talk to parents about the value of talking with their kids about money.

Money is one of those taboo topics...especially when it comes to personal finance. Usually if a family is tight on money, they tend to talk about money in a way that creates tension...specifically, what you can't afford. Other families that are well-off can have a tendency to give "everything" to their children...a good father wants to give "good gifts" to his children.

But involving your kids in your decisions and thoughts about money can be one of the biggest pathways to developing values in your kids that you want them to inherit. Over the past few years, I've really come to believe the truth that "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." We make decisions with money based on the things that are important to us.

Said in another way...the decisions we make with money reveal our values. When I was 6 years old, I seriously remember thinking, "When I get older, I'm going to buy all the ice cream in the world so I can eat it all the time!" I seriously valued ice cream, and wanted bigger portions than my parents wisely gave me. But at 6, ice cream was what was important to me...and money was the way to get it.

What if we started to involve our kids in decisions about money, sharing, giving, etc. It's never too early to start. A friend of mine decided to teach his daughter about the importance of giving. He asked her to decide which toys she wanted to give away to other kids without toys. The daughter (I think she was 2 at the time) didn't want to give any away at first, but eventually parted with a couple of her favorite toys. She learned a valuable lesson that the "stuff" we have on this earth is not as important as the people surrounding us. For younger kids, including them in giving or serving decisions can instill values in them to care for others and to trust God for provision.

High schoolers, on the other hand, are at a place in their lives where they are learning to articulate their thoughts and opinions. Opening the dialogue can really help them to develop the "why" in their money decisions. In our FutureProfits curriculum, we have an activity where we look at messages about money and discuss whether we agree or disagree. Not only does it give you a chance to hear from your kids what they think, but you can also ask why they agree or disagree.

Freshmen often have a harder time articulating the "why" part, but this activity often helps them to start articulating their thoughts and values. We begin by asking the students to decide whether a certain people group would agree or disagree and why. For example, if they were to represent their parents, or billionaires, or religious leaders, or advertising companies, what would each of those people groups say about money. Then it becomes easier to talk about what they personally think. Here are some of the messages we discuss with our students:

Your value is based on how much money you make.
A penny saved is a penny earned.
Get rich or die trying.
The poor are getting poorer while the rich are getting richer.
The more money you give, the more money you receive.
Money makes the world go 'round.
The best things in life are free.
Money is power.

Here's a fun one:
Parents should give their kids money for anything they request.

There are some more ideas in the article mentioned above, but bottom line is to start the conversation, and involve them in your decisions. Who knows? God may end up speaking wisdom through them!

Friday, February 24, 2012


I recently read a full page newspaper ad paid for by Remortgage America detailing their plan for improving the economy. They want the US government to finance a 30 year mortgage at a fixed 1% interest rate, with interest only payments for the first two years, for every US citizen. You would be able to finance a new or existing primary residence with a $500,000.00 lifetime limit.
What they say this will do: It will cut the monthly mortgage payments for most citizens by at least $500 a month or $6,000.00 a year.
            It will increase home values by increasing demand.
It will keep people from losing their homes by decreasing monthly home mortgage payments
            It will increase annual government revenues by decreasing the mortgage interest deduction.
The costs of this program would be paid for by this increase in tax payments over the next ten to fifteen years- assuming that the increase in tax payments is not otherwise spent by Washington.
            This is a loan program, so the money will be repaid over time.
            Remortgage America says that this would cost around $14 trillion dollars

This does satisfy a desire to get the government to help us, not just help big business.
The mortgage loan process would have to be subcontracted to those already in that business. That way it would not take so long to gear up for the demand. Most people in that business would stay employed --otherwise, you would be putting a lot of people out of work.
It seems to answer the need to keep people, whose income has dropped, in their homes. It is likely to free up a large amount of money that currently goes to the monthly mortgage payment and this money is likely to be mostly spent, spurring the economy.
It will put a bottom on house prices in most places, if not increase house values.

But, $14 million dollars is quite a bit of money. The government has committed $11 trillion dollars for bailouts of corporations over the last few years, but only spent $3 trillion dollars so far, and some of that has been paid back. The refinancing of the estimated $100 million housing units in the US would take a number of years, so the $14 trillion dollars would be spent over time. Not all of those units could be purchased for $500,000 or less so the total number of units might be less than the 100 million. It would free up the money that is currently in investor portfolios as mortgage loan investments, much of which would be used to buy government bonds. Perhaps this plan could be realized financially.
This would put Washington in the business of holding the majority of its citizen’s mortgages. Many people would like to see the government taking a smaller role in people’s lives. This situation is not completely different from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, etc., and many people want to privatize those organizations. It does seem like it would be a hard sell in the current election environment. It would be very difficult to do politically, but something is needed to jump start the economy. Something needs to be done that would affect a large number of tax payers, not just a small number of large corporations.

-Neil Fisher

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Happy Wanderer

Late last week I set off on a 10-day trip to the South. To begin, on Thursday I made a quick stop in Milwaukee for a productive and inspiring brainstorming session with leaders from across the nation. We spent the day discussing and dissecting the topic of job creation and capitalism in an urban/underserved context. My opinion is that communities like East Palo Alto are often sold short. Our folks are entrepreneurial by nature. There is an active and thriving underground economy that sustains many families throughout our city. This can range from car mechanics, tattoo artists, old 'mothers' selling plates of amazing food out their back doors, the local guy hawking corn out of a cart and hustlers selling DVD's.

The question is how do we harness that energy and employ individuals? I was particularly inspired by the work in Denver with Belay Enterprises. While the NCUD staff will quickly tell me we have enough on our plate right now - I most certainly feel a stirring to think about such enterprises. With a 30% unemployment and certainly a much higher under-employment rate something must soon happen to get our hard working community gainfully employed. As has been said, "A job is the fastest way to stop a bullet."

I needed to be in Jackson, Mississippi on Monday the 23rd, so I took advantage of the time to come to New Orleans and be with my sister and her family. It was great to see them, especially my niece and nephew Lilli and Noah. As I traversed the city I was inspired by the spirit and passion of the Big Easy.

On Friday, I spent a few hours with Kevin Brown from Trinity Christian Community. Kevin is a second-generation community developer who took over the organization that his dad developed 40 years ago. Kevin lives and works in the Hollygrove neighborhood of New Orleans. Hollygrove was devastated by hurricane Katrina. The staff and family of TCC watched as years of work and effort was washed away. However, as the Prophet Isaiah said, 'When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of God raises up a standard." TCC is very much that standard in Hollygrove. Kevin and his team have been rebuilding, and uses the devastation of the storm to catalyze their community development efforts. They are buying and refurbishing houses, developing community gardens, tutoring children and teens and working with community leaders to have a master plan of development and health for their neighborhood. I'm happy to report God is doing something wonderful in Hollygrove! Out of the ashes, something beautiful is emerging.

Kevin's passion and love for his city is something I've seen all over New Orleans. Whether in Mid City or the famous lower 9th Ward (where the 'Brad Pitt' houses are) this city is fighting to rebuild. I just hope their 'spice' is something we can learn from and export to East Palo Alto!
New Orleans has given us so much... we have much to learn...

John Liotti

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Fins Are On To Something....

Education in America has become an issue of justice. Just spend an hour in an elementary school in a low-income neighborhood, and you’ll see the teachers are overworked, have huge class sizes, and a huge lack of resources. My friend who was a teacher in a local elementary school did not have access to even pencils for her students. She was expected to provide basics for her students out of her own money.

There are a lot of recent movies and documentaries (such as The Lottery by Madeleine Sackler and Waiting For Superman) that are presenting the problem and showing the flock of parents sending their students to “lottery” schools, where families place their hope in a lottery to be chosen for enrollment in a school with better class sizes and higher excellence in academics.

My main issue with this is that families are placing their hope in a system that determines by chance whether students have the chance to be successful. If they don’t get in, the common attitude is then “I have no hope for my son or daughter to do well in school or have the opportunity to go to college.”

Public schools get a bad rap. When I was growing up, I loved public school and didn’t see anything wrong with it. But I also didn’t grow up in a low-income neighborhood where the resources were so lacking for schools as well.

I recently read an article that talked about the philosophy behind education and how America is viewing it in regard to Finland…

The Fins Are On To Something…
What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success - The Atlantic

To quote the article, the main questions Americans seem to be obsessed with in order to make education better are:
• How can you keep track of students' performance if you don't test them constantly?
• How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad teachers or merit pay for good teachers?
• How do you foster competition and engage the private sector?
• How do you provide school choice?

Finland differs in their perspective on education reform in the following ways:
First of all, Finland has no standardized tests.
The answers Finland provides seem to run counter to just about everything America's school reformers are trying to do.
For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what's called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school.
Instead, the public school system's teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.

Secondly, it’s all about responsibility, not accountability.
As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. "There's no word for accountability in Finnish," he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. "Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted."
For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master's degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal's responsibility to notice and deal with it.

Thirdly, Fins focus on cooperation, not competition.
And while Americans love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable. In his book Sahlberg quotes a line from Finnish writer named Samuli Puronen: "Real winners do not compete." It's hard to think of a more un-American idea, but when it comes to education, Finland's success shows that the Finnish attitude might have merits. There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation.

Finally, school choice is not a priority.
Finally, in Finland, school choice is noticeably not a priority, nor is engaging the private sector at all. Which brings us back to the silence after Sahlberg's comment at the Dwight School that schools like Dwight don't exist in Finland.
"Here in America," Sahlberg said at the Teachers College, "parents can choose to take their kids to private schools. It's the same idea of a marketplace that applies to, say, shops. Schools are a shop and parents can buy what ever they want. In Finland parents can also choose. But the options are all the same."
Herein lay the real shocker. As Sahlberg continued, his core message emerged, whether or not anyone in his American audience heard it.
Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity.

Education reform is definitely needed in America, but I wonder if we are asking the right questions. What if we started to ask, “How can we make school opportunities more equal” instead of creating schools that are better and more excellent than what is currently being offered. Of course, our whole American culture of competition would need to change for that to happen. So who knows where to start? We’ll have to start somewhere, and soon, because education is the major stepping-stone to “fullness of life” in our American culture and history.
-Jenni Ingram

Friday, January 13, 2012

The trouble with floors and water is...

My son and my new daughter wanted some help on a flooring project in their condo in Pasadena, CA, so I went down to lend a hand. Our first step was to move the furniture out and pull up the carpet and take it to the dump.  The first hiccup came when we arrived at the dump.  The recent record-breaking windstorm that hit Southern California meant there was a very long line of cars and trucks trying to rid themselves of the branches that had littered their yards.

On Sunday, we wanted to move out the last of the furniture and appliances and then paint. Being an early riser I am, I wanted to get a head start.  Hiccup number two arose as I walked through the house.  I noticed a puddle on the floor that stretched across the dining area, kitchen and entry hall. It stretched so far, it was impossible to tell where it came from. I mopped the water up and waited to see if any new water came in. I couldn’t figure out what generated the mess or if it will delay the floor installation the next day.

After the water clean-up, I began to move out the appliances. When I tried to turn off the water valve for the dishwasher, the valve handle and stem broke off in my hands. Hiccup number three. Before I could take out the dishwasher, I had to fix the valve, which meant letting the other residents know that the water would be turned off the water for half the building (not to mention make our fourth unexpected trip to the hardware store).

By the end of the afternoon, the water mystery was solved (a water line had burst in the unit above us but was quickly fixed), and the happy news was that the floor installation wouldn’t be delayed. A few hours later the water valve was fixed and the dishwasher removed. After debating between fourteen paint samples, my daughter-in-law finally chose the paint color, and we painted the kitchen.

Monday morning. The floor was dry. The appliances moved. The walls painted.  The floor guys were due at 8:00 a.m.  Of course, Eight, Nine o'clock rolled around with no sign of the contractors.  The guys finally showed up at 10:00 a.m.  A few hours into work the floor installers asked me where the base trim was for the kitchen. I told them that the supplier did not send any. There were baseboards for the living room and dining room, but no trim for the kitchen.  Finally, they figured out that it wasn’t ordered, and my son left work early to pick it up. Hiccup number 4. After my son returned with the base, the floor guy said that was  not enough for the living and dining rooms. Thus, another trip to the hardware store.  By the end of Monday evening, the floor and trim was completed and looked great.  Job accomplished.

My advice to anyone taking on a “small” home improvement project is: be flexible.  There will always be hiccups along the way. But isn't life like that too?

-Neil Fisher

(*picture above taken from HERE)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Where My Life Goal and NCUD's Purpose Align

Achieving a Ph. D in Psychology from Stanford University has been my life long dream.  A dream that I hope someday will turn into reality.  Of course just hoping isn’t good enough; it isn’t going to take me anywhere.  Anatole France put it perfectly when he hesaid “To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” Accomplishing my dream will not be ‘pan comido’ (a piece of cake), as the Latinos in my community like to say when something is easy to get.  I will have to figure out how to juggle the responsibilities at work, be a single parent and a student. The hardest thing I will have face has nothing to do with the rigorous application process or the finances needed.  Believing in myself will be the hardest part; believing that I can finish the program once I start.  Having my family support me will also be difficult. There is nothing harder to face than your own family and loved ones discouraging you from doing something that you love or strongly believe in.             
            Working for NCUD is another thing that my family does not support due to various reasons. They do not understand why I have a job that has nothing to do with my degree in Psychology.  I explain to them that I might seem irrelevant now, but that I’m gaining a new set of skills that might be useful later on in life.  Working for NCUD provides me with the opportunity to practice my listening skills and to deal with people facing tremendous stressors due to being at the verge of losing their homes to foreclosure.  I am often meeting people who are in the midst of making some of the most important decisions of their lives; weather or not to purchase a home for the first time, repair their credit or move out of the community. 
Being able to help people in my community is something I greatly value.  Whether my family understands it or not, NCUD’s mission and mine align.  NCUD seeks to provide financial education and counseling to low socio economic communities to help them achieve financial stability in the future.  My goal in life is to attain a Ph. D in Psychology and to provide counseling services to the people in my community to help them achieve their overall psychological well being. 
-Carmen Reynaga

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My New Year’s Resolution & The Impact of Film

For many years I have chosen a New Year’s resolution based on guilt and the desire to change something I wasn’t really motivated to change during the other 11 months of the year.  This year, I decided to try something different.  I wanted to pick a resolution I was excited about.  I had no direction prior to the 31st of December, but inspiration hit on the first of the year through a documentary called “These Amazing Shadows.”  
The documentary discusses the necessity and importance of preserving film for future generations, and the launch of the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.  Each year the National Registry Board selects 25 “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant films” to add to the registry.  I realized in watching the documentary that I have missed so many classic films that portray huge slices of our history as a nation.  So after little thought, I decided I would make my way through the National Film Registry list.  My goal is to get through the first year’s list (1989) by the end of 2012.  If I complete it early enough, I will move on 1990, etc…

The documentary explained that many of the films chosen each year have cultural significance.  Some of the films are home movies of Japanese internment camps or propaganda films from the early 20th century.  The lists run the gamut from cartoons to classics like “Casablanca”.  One film in particular caught my attention.  In 1992, the board selected a film titled “The Birth of A Nation.”  This propaganda film depicted the Ku Klux Klan’s perspective on the Civil War.  A plot synopsis from IMDB describes the film in the following manner:

The story is told through two families and often their servants, epitomizing the worst racial stereotypes. As the nation is torn apart by war, the slaves and their abolitionist supporters are seen as the destructive force behind it all. The film's racism grows even worse in its second half, set during Reconstruction and featuring the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, introduced as the picture's would-be heroes. The fact that Griffith (director) jammed a love story in the midst of his recreated race war is absolutely audacious. It's thrilling and disturbing, often at the same time.”

The negative power of film is most evident in films like “The Birth of A Nation” and “The Searchers” (known for stereotyping Native American Indians). These films contributed to groupthink, perpetuated racism and created fear among the masses.  Although the cultural significance of “The Birth of A Nation” isn’t positive, it did impact our culture at that time, and therefore was chosen to the Registry.  According to film historians, this film propelled the Ku Klux Klan into mainstream USA, provided a culturally acceptable platform for public lynching and laid the foundation for political leaders like Jim Crowe.  

Although I am excited about many films on the lists, I am hesitant and nervous to watch others.  But this resolution is begging the question, what am I watching today and accepting without hesitation?  What stories are being told today that will be known in the future as some of the most negatively impactful films in history?  Would I even recognize them for what they are? Would you?
-Kirsten Devlin