Thursday, February 15, 2018

I wasn't supposed to answer this phone call

The caller mistakenly hit the wrong numbers when she was in the voice mail system, so she ended up ringing my desk. She was a former client - we helped her find employment through JobNet and provided food during her job search. She was distraught because she was unemployed again and needed help, so I gave her information on how to begin again at JobNet.

She gave me few details on her current situation, but spent most of the phone call describing the different volunteers who had helped her, wondering if they were still with us. The conversation went something like this, "When I was at JobNet, a woman in her 50s with brown hair was especially kind to me in the computer lab. Is she still there?" Or, "The man who bagged my groceries each time I needed food always asked how I was doing."

She didn't have enough information for me to determine who these volunteers were, but her point was clear: the volunteers made her feel wanted and welcomed and cared about. She wanted assurance that her experience this time around would be similar.

I told her I couldn't identify the volunteers, but let her know the behavior she was describing was part of our culture, and that the volunteers who helped her this time would also be wonderful. She sighed in relief, thanked me, and hung up.

To all the CCSC volunteers who are reading this blog: thank you for exuding kindness to those who come through our doors. Hebrews 13:2 tells us Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Friday, January 12, 2018

We learn from those we serve

She works one full-time job and two part-time jobs to provide for herself and put her daughter through medical school. Three jobs.

Then the bottom fell out. She was laid off from the full-time job, had to have emergency eye surgery which left her temporarily blind in both eyes, and had to evacuate due to Hurricane Harvey. So at a time when she lost her main source of income, she had two catastrophes occur that brought in unexpected expenses.

She already had a good lead on a new job and expected to be hired soon, but she needed help in paying her rent to avoid eviction. It wouldn't make sense for someone this hard-working to find herself (and her medical-school daughter) living on the streets, so naturally CCSC made the easy decision to help with her rent. We offered other services as well, which she politely declined.

Here's what touched me most in the story. The person who met with her hand-wrote this on her case notes: Client was intentional about remembering 2017 as a turbulent year, but not a bad year. She said there were bumps in the road, but also opportunities for growth. She was grounded, faithful, and appreciative.

I'm thinking these might be my goals for 2018: to be "grounded, faithful, and appreciative."

Friday, January 5, 2018

In the days before Christmas

We helped a family fleeing a violent situation by paying their rent, providing Christmas toys for the three children, and connecting the mother to additional resources. They were not only victims of domestic violence, but also victims of Harvey: their car flooded out and was totaled, and the mother lost several days of wages during the storm.

We helped a special needs pediatric nurse whose car also flooded due to Harvey. It was fixable so she spent her rent money to repair the car, but was then unable to pay her apartment rent. Her landlord waived the late fees because she is such a good tenant.

We helped a former teacher who suffered from PTSD and had recently returned to the workforce. She was able to stay in her home due to CCSC's investment in her life.

We celebrated 5 clients who found jobs in healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and sales. They are now starting 2018 with stability instead of uncertainty.

Truthfully, we all start the year with uncertainty because we don't know what the year holds. Living into the unknown requires faith that God will give us what we need for each moment. I have found what God often gives me is the right people in the right moments, and for many vulnerable Houstonians, the right people are CCSC volunteers: listening to deeply personal stories, determining how to best help in that moment, and being God's provision for another.

May 2018 bring an abundance of goodness into your life, while also giving you the opportunity to be His provision for someone else.

Friday, October 20, 2017

What makes a church special?

A couple of Sundays ago, Program Director Karen Holloman gave a "moment for mission" at Bering Drive Church of Christ, promoting a volunteer workday at CCSC. It was her first time to worship at this church, and when she got in the car to leave, she paused and sent me a text to let me know how much she loved being there. This began a back and forth between the two of us, waxing poetic about Bering Drive.

There are other CCSC churches that are equally special, churches we walk into with an agenda - to staff a booth or speak to a group - and leave feeling we were somewhere special. Places that are touched by God; places that make you feel you were in a sacred space.

What makes a church special? There are some who would say it's the theology. And while the beliefs that hold a community together are the foundation of ministry, I've seen strong churches that are progressive as well as those that are conservative. I also don't believe it's the type of worship service (high church vs. low church) or music (church organ vs. a band) or program offerings, although all those things matter in selecting the right church for you.

In spending a lifetime in a wide variety of churches, I believe it's the people who make a church special. Karen's initial text to me that morning used words such as "warm and friendly". That doesn't describe the building or the pews, but the members who welcomed her and made her feel she belonged.

She also mentioned the pastor's message that morning as touching her. Dr. Jeff Christian has a great way about him, and his messages are grounded in scripture, while being relevant to one's daily life. He's pictured below, in the black t-shirt with members of the church who gave up their Saturday morning to put together personal hygiene kits for families in need and organize our abundant Harvey donations.

Thank you to Bering Drive as well as the other CCSC churches that serve as a witness to the love of God, the value of organized religion, and the discipleship that Jesus calls us to live out each day.

Friday, September 1, 2017

And then there was this gift

Right before we opened one of the food pantries - a day or so after Harvey moved east - the first client walked in. Except he wasn't a current client, but a past client. We had helped his family a few times in the last several years, and now he was stable. He was also dry and safe and hungry to help someone else because he knew exactly what it felt like to be vulnerable.

So he reached out to the place that offered him solace and hope and tangible help - CCSC. He walked in and handed us an envelope marked "anonymous donor". Inside was a $100 bill, which will now be reinvested into the life of another.

Many have stepped forward, and we are grateful for the wonderful response we've received. The food and financial support is coming in at a generous pace as we serve people. The Christian Community Service Center is here for the long haul - after the national news turns its attention to other matters, we will still be helping people who have been impacted by Harvey. This work will be ongoing for months and months.

Thank you to all our friends, with a special shout-out to our anonymous friend.

Friday, August 25, 2017

From client to employer - success!

“Alma” was referred to CCSC's *Martha’s Way program by her mother, who was a graduate and believed the program would be beneficial for her daughter.  Alma attended college at the time and was looking for a way to pay her daily expenses and tuition fees.  She graduated from the program in July 2009 and began her business. In addition to school and work, she carved out time to volunteer at Martha’s Way, serving as an ESL instructor.

In the past few years, she graduated from college and became an elementary school teacher.  Soon after, she was offered a position as a counselor at the school and loves working with the children and supporting their educational goals. 

Alma has since returned as a guest speaker at a Martha’s Way reunion event, where she encouraged clients to build their businesses and pursue their dreams.  She is now happily married, and they recently purchased their first home.  With busy schedules and a new home, they made the decision to hire a housekeeper to help them, so Alma called us to hire a recent graduate so she could help someone else the way she had been helped.

*Martha's Way is a vocational training program which teaches women to become small business owners in the field of domestic housekeeping. Some students need it as a bridge income, and some need it to sustain their families; some are married, and some women are single mothers; some women are exiting homelessness, and some are fleeing domestic violence. This program is a strong tool in providing financial security no matter what circumstances bring a woman to our classroom. For more interest in hiring a graduate, click on this link:

Thursday, June 8, 2017

What happens if your refrigerator dies?

More importantly, what happens if you have a chronic medical condition that requires daily medication that must be refrigerated? The important detail to note is that if you pay to fix or replace your refrigerator, you will not be able to pay your apartment rent. Hence, you might become evicted.

This veteran's only solution was exactly what I might have done: he bought a small, new refrigerator to ensure his immediate health. And then he sought out a church, correctly assuming that the church would want to help him through this crisis, rather than allow him to become homeless because his refrigerator broke.

His church referred him to CCSC, and we were happy to help him, not only because his situation was exactly why our organization was created, but also because it was a privilege to help someone who fought for our country.

This man's story affirms to me one of my strong beliefs: the church is the place to go when hope seems dim, and you simply need help.