In this job I have come face to face with poverty and disparity like I had only read about in textbooks. Families who are living within a system that doesn’t even give them a chance to get ahead that so many of them stop trying. Most of the families I work with are single moms who cannot afford to go to work, because their minimum wage jobs would not meet their needs—paying for child care, feeding kids, living in a home. What incentive do these moms have to go out and work when the system doesn’t help support them?
As a social worker with these families, I am working in their homes and I see firsthand the conditions in which they live. The bugs they have come to ignore, the bone chilling cold they fight through, the violence outside their doors—in some cases the violence inside their homes.
Yes, I know, this is my job, and not everyone can do it. Thing is, sometimes I question MY ability to do it. I question myself most during the holidays. This all started when I worked with a family to get their stuff ready for Toys for Tots. The mom called me a few weeks ago and asked if I could get some toys for her 6 year old son. I barely got her on the list, and called her last week to say I would be there to deliver the toys. She began to cry and said she didn’t know if I was going to get stuff for her, and she was prepared to tell her kids that Santa just couldn’t come this year. This made me so very sad. Glad that I could get her stuff, but for every child who gets some stuff, there is any number of kids who Santa won’t come to.
I get to drive away from the city after my day is over and leave that behind. Though it doesn’t really leave my mind. I often think about these families and how resilient they are. Could I live in a home that had holes in it to the ground below outside? Could I ignore the bugs crawling on the walls? Could I live with 5 other people in one room? Could I walk my kids to school each day past the drug dealers and prostitutes? It makes me sad that people even have to do this.
I wonder at times what these families could/would do if only given a fair chance at making it . . .if they had schools that actually taught their children instead of maintaining them during the day. If the streets were safe for kids to play in and the children could play with one another instead of watch TV, which by the way is powered by a cord going out their window and into the next door neighbors house since they don’t have electricity. What if they had good food to eat and it was just as cost efficient for them to eat healthy food as it was to get friend chicken. I can’t tell you how many times I have been offered fried chicken . . .
I read a book once called “The Myth of the Welfare Queen” and a majority of it was based in my city. It was fascinating to read about the lengths that some families go to get their needs met, and how defeated even the best of intentions can make them feel. I feel often like I am striking a fine balance between wanting to be helpful and not being demeaning and patronizing.
I am not sure where all this is going. I just know that this year, more than most I was having strong feelings about my job, the families I work with, and the conditions in which they live. Maybe I am feeling guilty about giving up this job in order to go work in the suburbs . . . though truth be told I wouldn’t be leaving if I knew I had continued funding in this job. As hard as it is, it has also been the most rewarding job I have ever had. I have learned so much from these families, and have even told them so. This means more to them than any gift I would/could give them I think. To know that they are able to give back, to mean something to someone. Isn’t that what any of us want? To be loved, to know you are thought of and cared for?
As I sit here looking at a tree full to the brim with presents, I send well wishes to my families and all those around who are not as fortunate as we are. I wish them love and peace in this season. I wish I could do more, give more, be more, have more, say more, mean more. I have given what I can, and at the end of the day I have to be ok with that-though it is hard to be so limited sometimes. I feel bad at times for what I do have—like last year as I was leaving work early to get home in a snow storm. A family called me to tell me their heater wasn’t working and the landlord was not responding. I cried that night in my warm home thinking of those kids and that family.
One last thing gift that these families have given me . . .they have made me look at the way I have judged others and how I have fed into stereotypes. For instance, I went to visit a family, and as I was driving up to the house I was scared. It was a street with rows of abandoned homes with doors beaten down, windows knocked out, and trash littering the street. I located the number of the house-which has been spray painted on and was fading. I took a deep breath, made sure I had my cell phone in hand, and went to the door. What I found on the other side was nothing less than beautiful. While there was little furnishings, it was warm-not temperature, but it was a home. It was probably the neatest home I had been in thus far, and the family was as caring as could be. Now when I drive by these homes I think of all the wonderful things happening behind those doors. I know there are other doors that have ugly evil things happening, but for now I choose to focus on the good.
Ok, this very long post . . . Send up a good thought or prayer for all these families and others, maybe- your own family members or friends who aren’t as fortunate this time of year, or any other time of the year. I wish love, grace, and peace to all of you this day.