Thursday, December 18, 2014

Seven years and two months ago...

In October of 2007, CCSC helped a family undergoing a one-time crisis by paying part of their apartment rent and giving them food along with a bar of soap. We never saw them again until yesterday when the son returned with a donation to CCSC. The family had carefully calculated the amount of money we spent to help them, added in accumulated interest, and written a check to reimburse us.

We were astonished by the intention and care they took to pay us back so we could help another family.

There is a little handwritten note on the check that says "with God's help". Does this note reference God's help during their crisis in 2007? Does it reference their gratitude to now be financially secure? Or is it a simple acknowledgement of God's presence in their lives?

We'll never know, but this surprise donation reminds me of a truth I learned long ago working at CCSC: the people we serve, who struggle greatly in life, often have deep spiritual insight. Along with great faith, born of hardship, not abundance.

So as we end 2014 and move into a new year, it's a good reminder that "with God's help", we can move confidently into a fresh, new year, trusting that God's presence is more than enough.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

We help all kinds of people

CCSC helped a man recently who was beaten and robbed twice in his neighborhood. The second incident caused him to be hospitalized for a lengthy period of time, so when he came to us, he was still fragile, physically and emotionally.

With only his sister in town, this single gentleman doesn't have much of a support system. He works at a small business doing odd jobs, and his employer now allows him to sleep at the office until he can earn enough money for a deposit on a new apartment. He needs to move to a safer neighborhood.

He came to us for food, not wanting to be more of a burden to his employer. Despite being younger than me by over 10 years, he looks much older: poverty and a hard life have aged him tremendously.

While most of us are drawn to helping needy children, I am grateful CCSC helps all the "vulnerables" in our community: children and grown-ups, the elderly and disabled, single mothers and two-parent families. We help all in need, including people like this man who are lonely and suffering and struggling to eke out a living.  There are many more like him, and I'm grateful he found his way to us.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"Black Friday" and more

There are names for our holiday shopping days: "Black Friday", "Small Business Saturday" and "Cyber Monday". And now there's a movement called "Giving Tuesday" to encourage and celebrate charitable giving.

I think of this as balancing the scales from being weighted towards consuming goods to also investing in good, charitable causes. "Giving Tuesday" will be on December 2nd this year, and at CCSC, we're going pay attention to our on-line traffic that day.

I enjoy hearing stories of how families creatively weave philanthropy into their lives. A few years ago, a CCSC family created a tradition in which the adults give only charitable gifts to each other. They still give toys to the children, but on Christmas morning the adults exchange envelopes, showing which nonprofit they gave to, in honor of each family member. The children are intentionally part of this gift exchange, in hopes it will influence them as they become adults.

So think about ways you can include giving in your Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions. It doesn't have to be big or complex, but instead should be meaningful and match your values & interests.

PS  Speaking of "Black Friday", swing by the Sunshine Resale Shop to see if they have any holiday gifts for the people you love. The shop will have more than a few one-of-a-kind gifts like the one below.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Today is a special day

This morning we dedicated one of our buildings in memory of our founder, Reverend J. Dean Robinson. Dean had big ideas and a generous heart, so a large sign with his name on it is now on the outside of our building. Friends and family gathered as Dean’s minister, Dr. Tom Pace from St. Luke’s Methodist, dedicated the building. 
Pictured below are Dean's brother-in-law, sister, son and wife along with Dr. Pace and me.

And then tonight, we have our “service of remembrance” in which we call out the names of the volunteers who died in the previous year. Reverend Blair Parker from Bethany Christian Church will lead us in remembering the 21 people listed at the bottom of this blog.

So today is about honoring those who gave their time to CCSC’s work. None of these people are famous by the world’s standards, but true excellence has little to do with outward signs of success. True excellence is about character, values, and how you treat others.  
The people I have the privilege of working with – staff, volunteers, funders, clergy – are intentional in living Christ-like lives. So they influence me to be more generous, more forgiving, more open to ways of living that benefit others.

So I ask: who are the people who most influence your life, and if the influences are good, have you ever thanked them for who they are to you?

Remembering these volunteers who died over the previous year:

            John Baker                                           Everett Marley
            Dorothy Berry                                     Kim McElfresh
            Toby Boyer                                           George Nevers
            Ben Campbell                             Rev. Dean Robinson
            Kenneth Dorman                Dorothy “Sue” Shanklin
            Claire Fricke                                 Theo Doris Sobotik
            Nancy Elizabeth Garfield                   Terry Stewart
            Harvey Hawkins                                              Vi Stolz
            Rev. Harold Heckmann                   George Stringer
            Dan Henley                                      Miles Woodward
            Bill Lamont

Friday, October 31, 2014


Below is a picture of Myra, a long-time CCSC volunteer who spends at least one day/week working at the Sunshine Resale Shop. Myra is open about her age – she is 91 years old – and she has more energy than people much, much younger than her.
I share this picture of Myra to make two points:

First, the Sunshine Resale Shop is a fun place to shop and volunteer. When I went today (on Halloween), several of the staff and volunteers were in full costume, contributing to a light and festive atmosphere. And among the items I saw for sale were a Louis Vuitton purse, several books that are currently on the bestseller list, and some antique furniture from an estate.

Second, age is rarely a reason to stop living a full life. Myra is certainly blessed with good health, but she has been intentional in making sure her days are busy and filled with activities. She does a lot of good in the community and would be the first to say that staying busy has kept her young.

So, if you want to visit a great shop with a cornucopia of treasures, stop by the Sunshine Resale Shop at 5413 Bellaire Blvd. And if you want to volunteer in any area of CCSC, contact Kate Gallup at We’d love to have you!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Can you imagine an empty kitchen?

When my children arrive home from school, they are hungry and tired. So typically they'll eat a snack and relax a bit before doing their homework. That little break and the nourishment helps them to then concentrate on their school work.

I share this with you because we recently helped a single mom who works at a fast food restaurant, but still has trouble feeding her daughter. She walked in last week, right as we were closing, hoping to get some food before her daughter arrived home. When we told her we could help, she began crying, telling us that when her daughter gets home from school, she is hungry, but there isn't always food for her. 

It's difficult for most of us to imagine this scenario. Yet I've spoken with several donors and volunteers over the years who lived it growing up and have no trouble imagining an empty pantry. Some were constantly hungry in childhood while others struggled only during temporary family crises.

Food pantries like ours provide a safety net for many different kinds of people. It helps the working poor like this mother, and of course, it helps lots of children. But we also feed older people living on a fixed income as well as those who struggle with physical and mental disabilities. And then there are those who have undergone a one-time crisis and are faced with making choices between food, shelter or other basic needs.

As we move into the holiday season, there will be many opportunities to support our food pantries as well as other pantries. And it's so easy: you can either drop donated food off or send in a check. However you do it, you'll be helping to feed the most vulnerable in our community.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

We help people improve their lives

Our program staff compile monthly statistics and send them to me and other staff who use the data. The data tells us who we served and how we served them, along with relevant demographic information.

The numbers help us to understand our clients and identify trends. But the numbers are only part of the picture which is why hearing individual stories helps round out my understanding of CCSC's mission on the ground.

 JobNet Manager Mickey Hammond now includes a client story along with her monthly stats, so I share the following with you.

Many JobNet clients come to us discouraged, unemployed or under-employed, and not earning enough for basic living expenses. For example, "Bob" did handyman chores at his apartment to pay the rent. He was discouraged, and his transformation with us began after taking the "Art of Interviewing" workshop which gave him new job search skills. He then enrolled in the QuickBooks workshop to learn how to develop a more lucrative handyman business; JobNet then made business cards for him. Along with these resources, a volunteer coach improved his resume which ultimately secured him an interview with a security company. And the company hired him! So now he has a better-paying job along with a vision (and skills) to create his own business on the side.

There are easy ways to help JobNet's clients. List your company's job openings with us, volunteer your time in the program, or simply let us know when you see "Help Wanted" signs at your favorite local business. To connect with JobNet, email Mickey at

Friday, September 12, 2014

Do you use a lawn service?

Lawn care is a good business in Houston with our year-round growing season. CCSC sometimes helps families who operate a lawn service, and recently we helped a single man who brings in about $1,300/month with his business. Because he lives frugally and only has to provide for himself, he says the income is adequate.

Unfortunately his mother (who lives outside of Houston) died, so he naturally needed to return home. He and his siblings planned the funeral, paid for the burial, and took care of all the tasks that arise when a loved one dies. He was gone three weeks, losing nearly a month of income. He pulled from savings to make his car payment and rent, but couldn't pay the electricity bill. So we helped with the bill, knowing this would return him to stable footing.

It humbles me to see people living without complaint on a limited income, especially when coping with normal life situations.

My mother died 18 months ago, so I understand the grief and the work it takes to settle someone's affairs. So with this client, I wondered how I would have coped with my mother's death, knowing I would return to a financially dire situation for myself.

I imagine I would have called my church for help because the church would have done its best to care for me. Among other things, I'm fairly sure they would have sent me to CCSC for help. So CCSC's response to clients is on behalf of my church and the other 40 churches who comprise our coalition.

We are the church in society, meeting basic, human needs and providing a safety net for those whose lives are economically fragile.

Friday, August 29, 2014

It's a new academic year

My children have returned to school, so our family is back to the structured, school-year routine that we hunger for in August but happily abandon in May.

I thought we had all the needed school supplies, but some additional items were added to the list, so we had to return to the store again. It was inconvenient only in making time to run the errand, not in purchasing the items.  I note that because this is one of the times of year I see a starkness between families who struggle financially and those who don't.

Buying new clothing, school supplies and paying for activity fees is easy for some of us but burdensome for others. We see many working families at our food pantries who are living on a meager income and just barely squeaking by. These August purchases set them back, which is why CCSC created the "Back To School" program in 1986.

This year we gave 6,518 needy children brand new school supplies and clothing, and below is a picture of some of the supplies. At the event, I visited with a 5th grade girl who was bursting with happiness. She told me she was excited to go home and organize the supplies and couldn't wait to meet her teacher. I thought of her on Monday, when HISD classes began, hoping her first day went well.

Thank you to the many in our community who volunteered at the event and/or sponsored a student.  And thanks to the many in our community who support the food pantries, employment programs and other areas of CCSC. Our organization is strong because of the many individuals who support it.

Happy Labor Day!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Some people make powerful impressions

I can't stop thinking about a family we helped a few weeks ago. The family is comprised of a mom with three children ranging in age from 16-22. Two of the children are in high school, and the other attends a local university. The two oldest work for their own college expenses, and the youngest just turned 16 and is now looking for work.

They live on about $1,400/month, and it was clear during the interview  process that the mother has exceptional budgeting skills. It was also clear that she has passed on her work ethic to her children.

The family came to CCSC needing food because they run out occasionally, so of course we helped and let them know how we can continue to help.

The children are impressive, but the person who has stayed in my mind has been the mother. She doesn't have much discretionary time or money, but she has intentionally passed on her values and her vision for her children's future.  That vision, I imagine, is what keeps them all moving forward in difficult circumstances.

I'm grateful to have met this mother, and I'm really grateful that CCSC had the opportunity to make a small investment in this family's life.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Has your office changed over the years?

My grandfather worked for a health care company and had a secretary who took dictation, typed up his correspondence, and answered his phone. I imagine that office would have had a mimeograph machine and lots of paper files. He could not have imagined how technological advances would change basic office functions.

CCSC's office has changed with technology over the years, allowing us to manage our work flow more and more efficiently. 

A few years ago, we realized the software in our program areas had become dated and wasn't providing the depth of information needed.  So we are launching new software for our two food pantries, and then rolling it out in the employment and youth services areas this fall. Once established, it will give us higher quality data in client trends and demographics, which helps us to better serve the clients.

Right now, our volunteers and staff are slogging through learning the new system. I was just visiting with two volunteers about the project, and instead of groaning about the extra time it's taking to learn, they noted out how much this will enhance our services.  They have a fabulous attitude.

The machine below would have been in my grandfather's office. I learned to type on this machine, yet my children have never seen one. It was for sale earlier this year at CCSC's Sunshine Resale Shop.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Today was a graduation day

Today we graduated a class from the Martha's Way program. (Click here to learn more about this program: ( 

I attended the graduation and loved being there.  One graduate has already started her housekeeping business, so our classes gave her new skills to propel it forward.  Another student is the third in her family to graduate from this program, and she exuded confidence in building her business. Yet another student is a refugee who is newly settled in the United States. He is soaking up all the educational opportunities available to him.

How can you help these graduates?  Look at the picture below of cleaning supplies. Does it make your heart sing at the happy thought of cleaning your house?  Not me.  I hired a Martha's Way graduate years ago to help keep our home clean. Interested? Get on our website (see above link) to fill out a homeowner form or email our staff at to start the process of hiring one of our graduates.  You'll not only be freeing up your time but also hiring someone who is eager to work and improve their family's financial future.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Try something new in the church world

Over the years, I have spoken at and worshipped in most of CCSC's 41 coalition churches. Being in all of these churches is easily one of the things I enjoy most about my job.

Naturally, the churches vary by denomination.  But they also vary in theology, worship style, interpretation of the gospel, music, and liturgy (vs. no liturgy).  Some churches prefer praise bands, some prefer an organ, and some prefer a cappella. Some follow the lectionary for scripture readings, and some don't.

When I first began working here, these differences stood out.  Now I barely notice them but instead appreciate them. One Sunday, I was at a church that spoke forcefully on a particular social issue; the following Sunday, I was at a different church that also spoke forcefully on that issue, but from a contrasting viewpoint. I chuckled inside and thought how lucky I am to be able to hear, firsthand, how different communities approach difficult issues.

From my desk, these churches are seeking the same thing: to build community and follow the Gospel as best they can.  In doing this, each church develops its own unique style and way of worshipping and serving together.  So I'm uncomfortable when I hear Christians criticizing other churches (or other Christians) for having a viewpoint or style different from their own. Who of us is right 100% of the time?  Not me.

So my challenge is to suggest that you worship, just once, at another church to try something new.  Select a church that is different from your own, and worship there as an experiment in discovering new ways of experiencing church.  A great starting point is the link below, a listing of CCSC's own member churches:

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Technology is great, but...

I was speaking to a group of students about their careers and was asked an almost rhetorical question: "Being tech savvy is the most important skill to have, right?" 

My answer was "no", responding that solid communication skills (writing and interpersonal) were instead at the top of my list.  The room was silent, and I think the students weren't sure how to react.  So I explained that in most fields, you have to be able to get along well with others, speak clearly when expressing your ideas and thoughts, and write well so the reader can act upon your request, idea or proposal.   

Writing is an under-valued skill.  The age of email, texting and social media has killed punctuation and grammar, and it's rare to see a clean, clearly written proposal, article or other piece of writing. 

What does this have to do with CCSC?  We have a couple of positions currently open, so we're receiving many resumes right now.  And most of the resumes have typos, poorly written emails, and if there is a cover letter, it typically has sloppy errors.  We have screened these out: if someone is not detailed enough to send their best to us, their quality of work is probably below what we consider acceptable. 

The people we hire must have the needed skills for that particular job description, but we also look for exceptional communication skills as well as a passion for CCSC's mission and a strong work ethic.

So if there are high school or college students in your life, help them to develop these other skills.  My guess is that most people under the age of 25 have already mastered technology, so this will not set them apart.  But their work ethic and ability to communicate well with others will.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Summer isn't great for everyone

As I write this, my daughter is taking her last final, and my son is already out of school. They are ready for the unstructured days of summer. While they have some responsibilities, most of their summer days will be spent going at a pace considerably lower than the pace we maintain during the school year. Our entire family is grateful for summer!

This ease of summer is in contrast to the lives of the families we serve at CCSC. It's not that these children don't have unstructured days also, but hunger becomes an issue. In public school, students receive breakfast and lunch at school - this is a long-standing federal program designed not only to alleviate hunger but to also enhance a child's ability to learn. (I realize some readers are for federal programs like this, and some are not. My point is not to debate the merits of this program, but to point out what happens in the summer.)

So when summer is out, families are stretched to now provide two additional meals/day for each child. The problem is not one of willpower or desire but a mathematical issue: if you bring in $900-$1,000 of income each month and have two adults and two children living in your home, your income is inadequate. During the school year, you get a break on your food bill, but for the summer months this expense goes up as does your electric bill.

This is why CCSC typically sees a surge in families needing food during the summer months. Hunger in our community trends up.

So this summer I especially encourage you to donate to our food pantries or a food pantry near you. If you have children or grandchildren, take them to the grocery store and have them help you purchase food to donate. You'll not only be helping to feed other families, but also encouraging a young person to share and help others.

Friday, May 16, 2014

A lesson to share

I was at a memorial service for a CCSC volunteer and was introduced to his adult children. Upon hearing where I worked, the daughter said, "volunteering at CCSC changed his life". She went on to explain that her dad often told her that interviewing clients at our food pantry changed his understanding of poverty.  He said he wished he had understood earlier in his life how little he really knew about other people and their situations.  Not just with poverty, but in general.

I find it profound that in the last season of his life, he acknowledged that he knew less about people than he thought he did.  His daughter went on to say that he wished he had had a little more humility and a little less certainty in life.  She smiled, and said "I'm still learning from him."

Me too, I thought.

The man who passed away was gentle, dignified and a pleasure to be around.  I would not characterize him as being anything less than gracious and kind.  So if this wonderful man admits he doesn't have all the answers and a bit more humility was needed in his character, then without hesitation, I profess the same need.

His memorial service was beautiful and reflective of his priorities in life: faith and family.  I walked away from the service with a gold nugget of wisdom and send a special thanks to his daughter for sharing one of her dad's last life lessons.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

What's your legacy?

Two nights ago, CCSC held its annual Azalea Dinner to celebrate our mission and raise funds.  In the midst of the evening, we received news that our founder, Dean Robinson, had passed away after a long illness. Because of the timing of the news, we were able to take a moment to lift him and his family up in prayer, and celebrate all that he was to our organization and the wider faith community.

Dean was an ordinary person who used his unique skills, talents and personality to live his faith.  By this I mean that he was not superhuman: he had talents and flaws, good traits and bad traits, ways of doing things that were good and habits that weren't so good.  He was human, just like each of us.

What makes him great (to me) is that he harnessed all that was within him, the good and the bad, and picked up his cross to follow Jesus.  He didn't wait until he was perfect to begin to live a Christ-centered life; he just lived it as best he could.

And along the way, he founded CCSC, Amazing Place Houston, and a variety of programs at St. Luke's Methodist Church.  Every great thing that he did just happened to help other people. 

Not many of us will found and create organizations.  But each of us has the ability to use all that we are - the superb as well as the imperfect sides of ourselves - to live our faith daily.  So make peace with your flaws and talents, gather them up, and use them as Dean did: to help others and make a difference in your world. 

Below is a picture of Dean and his wife Beverly at a prior Azalea Dinner.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I had a pity party last week

Last week I had a virus, one that makes you feel miserable and wishing scientists would find a cure for the common cold.  In addition, my husband was out of town, so I was single-parenting while feeling crummy.  It wasn’t a great week.
I confess that I felt sorry for myself.
Then, my virus cleared up, my husband came home, and life settled back into its normal axis. 
This week I sat through a client interview of a single mother who has children about the same age as mine, and I realized that my hard week is her life. 
She doesn’t have another adult in her home to swap advice and daily chores with, and she lives paycheck to paycheck, worrying about things I take for granted. How will she pay for her daughter’s prom dress? Her son is growing, so his appetite is escalating. Will they run out of food this month?  How can she spend quality time with her children when she works so much just to pay for the basics?
I wonder how she manages the pressure and emotional strain.  It must affect her outlook on life.  
Without a doubt, life can be hard for all of us at times, so I don’t mean to imply that we should minimize our personal challenges.  However, I sometimes need a reminder that the burdens I carry are not quite as heavy as those others carry.  Knowing this helps me put my life into perspective.
I am most definitely not complaining about my “bad week” anymore. 


Friday, March 14, 2014

What kind of driver are you?

If you read my last post, you’ll see that I address the misconception that all poor people are alike and cheat the system.  A friend read the post, and with great humor, she emailed me a parallel quote that Houston’s drivers are also not all alike:  some cut you off in traffic, some are angry, some are gracious, some are slow, etc…  You’ll have to read my last blog to catch the humor in her writing – I think she had a bad experience on Highway 59 near the construction on Weslayan. 
Also on the heels of posting that last blog, one of our volunteers shared this story of a client we recently helped.

It’s a two-parent family with a four-year old and a seven-month old.  Dad is a dental hygienist, certified in the State of California.  They lived in California, but the cost of living was too high, so they made the big decision to move to Houston.  Our cost of living is considerably less, plus Houston is a city of opportunity.
Unfortunately, they made a mistake that has cost them dearly.  They didn’t realize that his professional certification does not transfer over in Texas, so instead of earning a decent wage in his field of work, he is earning just above minimum wage, working in a restaurant.  The mother cares for the children full-time, so until the youngest begins kindergarten, she cannot contribute much to the household’s income.

The volunteer told me this family is stressed, and Dad works a lot, just to pay the bills.  Becoming recertified will cost him time and money, and they are trying to address those barriers.  In the meantime, CCSC provided food and clothing to the family and connected them to other resources to help their situation.
They are not cheating the system, but are doing their best in a difficult situation.  It is the mission of CCSC to be a safety net for families such as these.  We represent the church in saying, “this family is suffering and is worthy of help – let’s do what we can to soften the hard circumstances of their life.“  And we do it with kindness. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Questions on poverty

A few months ago, I spoke to a group of people giving a CCSC talk, outlining our mission and programs.  Near the end, I opened it up for questions.  Several people asked variations of the same question:  how do we qualify people for help?
I receive this question often, and it’s usually about wanting to ensure we are good stewards of the resources donated to us.  In other words, do we have a system in place to ensure the people we help are truly in need, and do we apply those policies fairly and consistently?  These are good, fair questions that I’m comfortable answering. 
However, it was clear that this group came from a perspective of assuming people in need disproportionately cheat the system.  The questions became more and more targeted and negative. 

My point in writing about this incident is not to discuss how I handled this situation.  Instead it's to clarify that low income people are just like other groups of people:  not identical clones, but unique individuals with their own personalities, stories and history.

Some are Type A, some are laid back, some are angry, some are humble, some are depressed, some take short-cuts, some are workaholics, etc…  Because all systems are comprised of people, you will always have some who follow the system and some who try to get around it.  In this regard, the poor are no different than any other group of people.

At CCSC, we do our very best to ensure the people we help are in need and match our goals and objectives. When we’re not sure, we err on the side of grace.  When we say “no”, we say it with kindness.  In all matters, we work hard to be fair.

Friday, February 28, 2014

No thank you

Recently, some colleagues and I discussed how our offices process donations. We began the conversation because one of us had received a mailing from another nonprofit.  In small print, at the bottom of the solicitation, it said that donations under $25 would not receive a thank you note because the cost of stationary, postage and processing would exceed the donation amount.

While I'm all for being a good steward of donors' resources, I found this statement unsettling and fairly offensive. What if someone's $20 donation represented a healthy percentage of their income that week?  What if it was a true sacrifice?  CCSC has donors who fall into this category.

So do we only thank donors who write big checks?  From a Christian perspective, I can't imagine Jesus would endorse this practice.  Upon seeing a poor widow put two coins into the offering, he noted that she gave out of her poverty while others in the temple had given out of their abundance.  When I read that passage of scripture (Luke 21:1-4), I am reminded that true giving comes from a generous, humble heart. 

True giving should be acknowledged.  When people make a gift to a nonprofit, they should be thanked, no matter what the amount. The cost of sending a thank you note is worth the good will.    

I wonder if this nonprofit's practice is related to the overall decline in good manners in our society.  We're no longer great about responding to invitations (RSVPs) or sending thank you notes out in general - it's almost a lost art. 

One of my mentors has a practice of sending at least one handwritten note out weekly to someone in his professional world.  Sometimes the notes acknowledge good work, and sometimes they are just a note, letting the other person know that he is thinking about them. But the notes are always personal and heartfelt.

So let me close with a thought: I wonder what would happen if each of us adopted this practice and sent out one personal note a week.  I'll bet the impact would be significant.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Do you know our mission?


The mission of the Christian Community Service Center (CCSC) is to serve the poor, hungry, disabled, and otherwise needy while respecting their religious, ethnic or cultural differences.
CCSC was created out of faith, and founded in the belief that we are called to help all God's children heart to heart and hand in hand.

I really love CCSC's mission statement because it succinctly describes our purpose and culture.  I also love it because I've seen it in action over the years, and not just in the programs.  It is a reference point for strategic planning, managing change, and considering new ideas.

This statement was developed by a CCSC committee many years ago.  I like to share that because it debunks the myth that committee work is tiresome.  Good committees produce good work!

For those of us who have seen the mission statement a million times, look at the graphic below to see the statement more creatively.   

Recently I was asked to participate in a radio show on religious organizations and their missions.  Click here if you'd like to hear the broadcast:

Friday, January 31, 2014

Sometimes it's okay to talk to a stranger

This morning, staff member Stephanie Hodge was at a local grocery store picking up some of the "Red Barrel" bags.  You know those barrels:  they are in most grocery stores and the contents are donated to food pantries.

As Stephanie was loading her car with the food bags, a stranger approached.  He asked if she worked for the agency that would be distributing the food to the hungry, and when she said "yes", he handed her $100 as a cash donation.  And then he walked away.

When she shared this story, it made all of us smile:  not because of the $100 donation, but because of the generosity of a stranger, who asked for nothing in return for his gift, not even a tax receipt.

I love anonymous goodness and have the privilege of seeing it often at CCSC.  We clearly see it with donors and volunteers, but also with clients.  One cold winter day, a homeless man came in looking for a coat, and we were out of warm clothing.  Another client overheard the conversation between the man and a volunteer.  He stepped forward to give the man his own coat, saying that he had an apartment and couldn't imagine sleeping on the streets without warmth.  This was someone who had come to us needing food and clothing, yet he freely gave away his only coat.

Because I work in a faith-based organization, I am surrounded by spiritually focused people, seeking to live their faith and values in the world.  Most of the people I know want to do great things with their lives.  Yet I wonder if greatness is in the little moments that comprise our daily lives.  Mother Teresa said it best:  "We can do no great things, only small things with great love." 

Friday, January 17, 2014

With apologies to mathematicians, numbers aren't everything

We are working hard to finalize our 2013 numbers to report the year's results. This involves our financials as well as our program statistics and outcomes.  Essentially, CCSC had a good year, and we'll be reporting the information formally next week.

Numbers matter because we can measure accomplishments and make comparisons to prior years as well as to our goals.  But numbers cannot be the sole mechanism in measuring success.  An organization's mission also needs to be assessed:  Did we live our core values (these are mentioned in a prior post)?  Can someone walk into our programs, office, or resale shop and see a match between our values and our daily interactions?  Do we "walk the talk" with our organizational culture?

I share this not to give an assessment on CCSC's culture (although I think our staff and volunteers do an outstanding job).  I share this to show that when we measure success, we also have to consider how well we relate to others, especially those we serve.

So I'm always grateful to receive feedback on how we can improve in this area.  And of course, I love to hear directly from our clients. 

Earlier this week, I ran into a former JobNet client.  He wanted me to know how much the people at JobNet meant to him:  he said they changed his life, and he rattled off all their names.  He's been employed for three years now.  In the year he was a client, he represented one person out of 50,000+ who our organization helped.  His statistic was not meaningful, if you look at just the numbers.  But his story was meaningful to those who worked with him.  He believed they genuinely cared for him, and this helped propel him forward.

So as we publish and report our numbers, remember that each program statistic represents a human being, with his or her own story.  CCSC aims to meet our targeted programmatic and financial goals while seeing each person coming through as a child of God, worthy of our best effort.

If you would like to become a CCSC volunteer and join our community, please contact our volunteer coordinator, Kate Gallup, at

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Christmas Isn't Over

There is a poem I read this time of year that I find inspiring.  It's called "The Work of Christmas" by Henry Thurman:

When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To teach the nations
To bring Christ to all
To make music in the heart.
Howard Thurman

Like many of you, I revel in the majesty of Christmas.  I enjoy all the activity at CCSC and seeing so many volunteers come through our doors this time of year, eager to serve and help us fulfill our mission.  I also love the quiet time I have with my family, the music and decorations, and the inspiring worship services at my church. 
So when it's over, and I find myself in January, it can be a bit of a letdown.  I read this poem as a reminder that while the pageantry and magic of Christmas has its time, the work of Christmas is timeless and ongoing. 
This week, as in most weeks throughout the year, CCSC works its mission.  We help job seekers to find a job (or a better job).  We feed families and individuals, and we put eyeglasses on the faces of at-risk students. We train women to become entrepreneurs, help older persons with their medication, and working families to avoid homelessness.  We do this in a culture that says all people are to be treated with dignity and respect.  We do this in a culture that strives to balance accountability and solid business practices with the ethos of our mission:  to be the hands and feet of Christ in a hurting world.
Thanks to all who support and believe in our work.