It is Halloween 2020. This is the year we celebrate a Halloween of all treat and no trick. My goodness, nothing feels normal. Nothing feels safe any more.
This morning the two Casa Girasoles homes are preparing for unique celebrations. Neither house celebrates Halloween - the ghosts and ghouls Halloween. Instead, they prepare unique celebrations of the culture and heritage of the local regions. This includes All Saints and All Souls day observations - but more than anything, it includes fun activities for the kids.
Throughout the pandemic the staff of the Casa Girasoles have gone the extra effort to bring a sense of normalcy to the kids. Both homes are located on large properties. This has meant we have the physical environment for "sheltering-in-place" and allowing the kids the space and place to play and run around. The house in Ica even built a mountain bike course inside the compound.
I feel so fortunate that we can offer the boys a chance to feel like kids. That is not true for so many. Just yesterday I received a message from a staff person about one of the mothers in our Ines Project for Medically Fragile Children. The mother, a woman who has lived a life so much more complex than her 35 years, has a child with a rare in-born error of metabolism disorder. For the most part, management of the condition has been one long experiment. The mother, living on her own with 2 other children, has done a tremendous job advocating for her child - arranging appointments, managing the complicated puzzle of coordinating transportation, and holding her family together. They live in deep poverty. Renting a small hut (clapboard walls with no plumbing) on the roof of a mechanics garage.
The mother - originally from the Puno area high in the Andes - has been a challenge for the staff of the Ines Project. She can be demanding and often fails to follow-through on the requests of the team. A couple of weeks back they gave her an ultimatum - start to comply with the project requirements or leave. I know the team wasn't trying to be hardline They were just frustrated. We talked and worked on a plan that allowed everyone to show up. We made every effort to assure the mother was heard and had a place to show up with her needs to the project. The team crafted an agreement and presented it to her. She rejected the agreement. She didn't want to be controlled. She told the team she was going to go on her own.
I spoke with our project director yesterday. We both feel the real issue is one of fear. The mother has worked so hard to care for her family. She has scraped and fought for their safety and well-being. She is worn-out. The pandemic hasn't made this any easier. In fact, it has made her even more defensive and angry. An anger that comes from a deep space in our neurobiology that is focused on keeping us safe. She is literally reacting in a way that is about protecting herself and her family.
We've talked with the team. We're going to give the mother some space. We'll reach out in a few days. We'll let her know we are here and that we care for her and her family. We will giver her the space to tell us about her needs. We will make certain she is safe.
There is so much pain in the world. The simple things - trick-or-treating - that helped us to hold onto the "normal" are gone. The social-political-economic clashes that are all around us - they're exhausting. They're scary.
It strikes me the one thing we can offer one another is safety. We can be a safe space in relationship. We can be a space for others to feel heard, respected and honored.
Let's stick together. Let's seek safety.
I spoke at First Presbyterian Church of Vancouver yesterday. It was the first time I've been in a building, other than an occasional trip to the grocery store, in months.
There were only 10 or so people in the entire sanctuary, but it still felt a bit strange. Every precaution was fastidiously orchestrated and applied. My talk was taped and broadcast to the congregation (if you're interested, you can watch the talk at [starts at 47:10]: https://youtu.be/zFFvLrS_Kns). The whole production was first class.
I've spoke at many churches, civic groups, organizations, and clubs over the years. My talks are usually the same - the who, what, and why of Health Bridges. I talk about the origins of our work and the shift to becoming a 501(c)(3) registered organization. I generally speak about the projects and programs that punctuate our work. I talk about the vision we have for creating better collaboration and partnerships. It's a pretty standard talk.
Yesterday was different. Yesterday, I talked about hope.
So much has happened over the past 8 months. Too much. At times it feels like we've lived 9-lives in these pandemic months. At times it feels overwhelming, hopeless. Yesterday, in front of a few masked faces in a cavernous church sanctuary, I talked about how we can work together to overcome the feeling of hopelessness. I talked about how we can work together to be the hope so many people need.
Hope is a strange word. For many, it means wishing for and desiring of. For many, it is a word focused on dreams - with little grounding in reality. But the word hope means so much more than wishful thinking. The Latin root for hope means to curve or bend. It is a word focused on going in a different direction. A word focused on change.
I am living in the hope that we can bend the curve of justice for all. I live in hope that we can - and will - build a future for every child to have access to the life they deserve. I am standing in the hope that we can and will go in a different direction when we work together to bring hope to everyone.
My wife and I voted last night. It was invigorating. Now, perhaps more than ever before - voting feels like the most important civic responsibility we have.
I don't usually disclose personal information on this Blog; and I very rarely broach politics. This is, however, not a normal time. Everything has changed. The world as we know it (thanks, R.E.M.) is just not the same. We need an alignment. We need a commitment from the highest political offices and most powerful and influential leaders to chart a path to a future grounded in integrity, honesty, and humility. Too much is on the line, and too many people depend on such leadership to survive.
We're taking alignment very seriously at HBI. Over the past couple of months, we've been digging into conversations at many levels of our organization. Deeply considering our vision, mission, and programmatic focus. We've asked important and timely questions like, "who will Health Bridges be in the future?" and "what values will we need to demonstrate that commitment?" We've reviewed our programs and projects and considered how we've demonstrated objective outcomes.
So, what has all this discussion and exploration shown? It's been incredibly powerful to look across all our work - and align the activities with the outcomes we are seeking to generate. We've used a set of organizing principles to help drive this process. This includes seeking to define the "end game" for HBI; and, strongly considering what uniquely qualifies and positions us to have the biggest impact from our work.
These exercises can seem a bit like navel-gazing. They can feel like a relatively low impact activity. We've found just the opposite. The many hours we've spent have given us alignment as we have never had before.
In the coming weeks, we'll be sharing what we've learned. We'll be releasing our new vision, mission, and values statements. We will share our updated organizational logo and we'll even roll-out a new website.
Why are we doing this now? Certainly, the pandemic has helped shape clarity - but more than any event or experience, our clarity has come from a deep desire to create the sort of alignment that will allow us to best bring our gifts, talents, and resources to create a world where every child living in the experience of poverty, disenfranchisement or marginalization has access to health, hope, home, and purpose.
Because now, more than ever, far too much matters, and far too many people need our clarity and alignment.
Nico (not his real name) was ten years old when he realized he could no longer take care of his little brother. At four years old, his little brother was more than he could handle.
For as long as Nico could recall, he was the sole parent for his little brother. Taking care of him was like taking care of his own son. And, for most of that time - Nico knew what to do. Now, at four years old - Nico didn't know what to do.
A kind neighbor had always been there for Nico and his brother. She would feed them when his mother left for long periods and did not provide any money for food. She would check-in on them, making sure they were safe and warm in the cold rainy months. Now, she noticed something very different - and she went to the local judiciary to file a report of child endangerment.
That was the day Nico and his little brother came to live at the Casa Girasoles. From the very first day - Nico talked about how much he wanted to go home. He talked about how much he wanted to be with his mother. He knew of her "sickness" and the changes that would happen when she was drinking - but he also knew she was their mother, and he wanted more than anything else to be loved by her.
Nico started running away about a month after arriving at the Casa Girasoles. The first couple of times he ran-away, the staff would find him walking down the road attempting to hike his way home. He pleaded with them to let him go - and the staff would explain that Nico and his brother had been placed in our care and we had a responsibility to keep them safe and well.
One day Nico ran away - this time, it was not the same. The staff couldn't find him anywhere. A few hours quickly turned into a whole day - with no word of Nico's whereabouts. Finally, after filing a report with the local courts, the police found Nico at his mother's home (a small four wall hut with a dirt floor and open-pit fire). She was drunk and rambling on about letting him stay or go or whatever he wanted to do. Nico cried with the police and our staff to let him stay with his mother.
Nico ran-away again, about a month ago. He ran-away during the pandemic, and the police and courts said there was nothing they could do to bring him back to the Casa Girasoles. They said he would need to stay with his mother until the quarantine ended.
We don't know how Nico is doing. We've tried to visit, but no one is every around. The neighbor tells us she is worried; and, the mother is drinking more and more.
The pandemic is making everything harder. It has made the child welfare sector even more challenging. It has, however, taught us a critical lesson - we must be developing programs and projects that work with the total needs of the children we serve. We need to build models of care that learn from and are led by the voices and experiences of children like Nico. We must do more than respond to a challenge or problem - we must build a bridge to the future.
Join us - lets build a care delivery model that will help Nico and his mother find the lives they deserve, and the hope they need.
We're in the midst of a fall fundraiser campaign. Believe it or not, that is not the reason for this blog post.
Fundraising campaigns show me something in a very tangible way - how fortunate we are to have a group of people who keep showing up for us and the work we are doing in this complicated world we are living. I can honestly say that every time we have a campaign, event or fundraiser - you all rally to help.
This is such a huge blessing - on a number of levels. Yes, your generosity helps us to do the work we are called to do in the world; but beyond that - your commitment and belief in our work is such a blessing. Time and time again, the many people who support HBI show me that we are a big family.
This week we had a member of the founding Board of Directors of HBI step down. After 14 years, and countless meetings, subcommittees and fundraiser events - Dr. Natasha Polensek is stepping down from her official duties. She is one of five founding Board members - the others include: Lee Centrone, Maggie Hendrix, Micheal Dotten and Stacy Hall. All these individuals have given hundreds of hours of their time, energy and expertise to our work. They have helped to shape and craft our very existence. They have helped to guide our future. And, most of all they have shown me that the only way anything will ever move from the notion of a good idea to the implementation of an actual impact is with dedicated people.
I am honored to be surrounded by so many amazing people - our staff, supporters, stakeholders and partners. People who give so much to our work; and people who are making a real difference in the world every day.
The HBI Blog is a rotating journal from our staff. Our Blog is a series of messages from the field, insights from our work, and lessons in service.