Thursday, December 17, 2015

The staff is laser-focused on mission

Every Christmas, our staff has a party to celebrate the year and exchange "white elephant" gifts. Pictured above is Karen Holloman wearing her new scarf, with Michelle Baker and Nia Simmons on either side of her.

During the party, we went around the room and shared moments in which each of us experienced CCSC's mission firsthand. Finance Director Judie Kochenower helped screen the vision of pre-schoolers earlier this year, and it touched her heart to see these vulnerable children because her daughter is the same age.

Carla, the Assistant Manager at Emergency Services-Central, told of an elderly client we help regularly with food and clothing. Her limited income is stretched because she has voluntarily chosen to provide for a non-family member who is mentally challenged. Carla shared her respect for this woman who is sharing her limited resources to help another person.

Brittni, our Receptionist, said her "mission moment" came this week. She had spoken with several difficult callers, with the last phone call leaving her feeling discouraged. She got off the phone to find a staff member of St. John the Divine Episcopal standing in front of her. The church staff was volunteering that morning at CCSC, and this particular person said, "I'm here to work for Jesus. Where do I go, and by the way, you are blessed to work at CCSC."

Wow. This was just what Brittni needed to hear and a nice reminder to all of us that we are here to do Jesus's work.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The hungry need help

If you're on the CCSC mailing list, you have probably received our year-end letter. I'm sharing the letter below to illustrate how prevalent hunger is as well as how important CCSC's mission is.

If you are a reader of this blog and would like to support our work (thank you!), click on this link to make a secure donation:

I want to share an experience one of my neighbors had.  

He and his wife were in line to pay for groceries when the person ahead of them asked the cashier to stop because he had run out of money. There were items left in the cart, and when my neighbor looked in, he saw juice and bread and lunchmeat. This troubled him, so he quietly paid for the remaining food.  

When recounting the story, he shared his surprise at seeing hunger up close as well as his gratitude and understanding of why CCSC exists.  

Most of us are not going to be able to help someone as personally as my neighbor. Instead, we need a trusted system to operate on our behalf.  A system that addresses short-term and long-term needs, building in fairness and kindness.  

CCSC is that system. We maintain a healthy system to support our Christ-centered mission of addressing the effects of poverty: hunger, unemployment, children’s needs. And all this is done with a lean workforce, heavily weighted with volunteers. 

Many of us make our charitable gifts at year-end, so I ask for your support of CCSC’s work, pledging excellent stewardship and abundant compassion as we continue to fulfill our mission, one person at a time.

Monday, November 23, 2015

What is essential to your life?

Some of the clients we've helped remain in my mind because their stories touch something deep within me.

Many years ago we helped an older woman who lived on a limited income and had endured multiple  hardships. As her story unfolded, with loss after loss, I wondered how she had managed to keep from drowning. She shared her story without pity, acknowledging the goodness that had also flowed into her life.

I'm not going to spell out her losses, but they would have broken many of us. So near the end of the interview - when we had taken care of her needs (food, warm clothes, prescription meds) - I leaned over and asked how she had managed to survive all this. 

She said each loss whittled her down to understanding that there were just a few things in life she really needed: "her family, her church, and a little bit of food in the house".

Friends, there is a sermon in her response.

In a world that values things over people, we need to pause and think about what really matters in our own lives. And then cultivate those priorities with our time and energy.

Cicero said, "If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." Do you agree? What is essential to your own life? Name it, and say "thank you" if you have it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

I recently spoke with a few clients

CCSC helps families and individuals who undergo short-term crises. Sometimes we pay part of their rent or utilities, preventing homelessness or substandard living conditions. A volunteer follows up a few months later to check on the family’s well-being and ensure our resources were invested well.

So one day this fall, I made some of those calls. I spoke to an elderly woman who needed assistance paying for her electricity last summer; she lives on a fixed income and had an abnormally high bill. If we hadn't helped her, she would have cut back either on food or prescription medication.

I also spoke with two single parents who’ve made lifestyle adjustments to juggle their children and work. Bob has three children under the age of five, and he works nights to care for them during the day. I referred him to our Client Services Coordinator to see if we could help formulate a plan to further stabilize the family and also reduce his stress.

The other single parent, Kate, was lucky enough to have her mom move in with her, so she now has help with her elementary school-aged children. She works a low wage job in the retail sector, so we referred her to JobNet, hoping an upgrade in skills might increase her income.

And then, while writing this post, a minister reached out to me, saying they have a homeless man sleeping outside, near the church, so she’s sending him to us for help.

You know, if I got into trouble, I’d sleep near a church also, trusting that the people of the church would reach out to me. And that’s CCSC’s mission, to be the church, saying “Yes, come to us. Let us help you.”

Friday, October 30, 2015

I'm grateful to help a caregiver

By a certain age, most of us have had the responsibility for caring for an aging parent. It is is hard work, no matter whether it is a short or long journey, because it nearly always involves grief as well as many other emotions.

I've found that the journey is not just about caring for our parents, but also what the journey does to and for us.

But this blog is not about the journey. It's about the people who help us care for our parents. The people who do the mundane tasks of feeding, dressing, cleaning and taking care of our parent's basic needs. The right person is a gift from God, for all involved: the parent and the adult children.

So we had a caregiver come to our food pantry. She's had a long work history caring for older people in a skilled nursing facility, but was laid off  because the number of patients in her unit had declined. When she came to us, she had job interviews set up with several other places and was not concerned about finding work, but just needed help during the interim time. Which is exactly what CCSC is set up to do.

We chatted quite a bit during the interview, and what struck me was her quiet dignity and the kindness that emanated from her. Just being in her presence stilled me on a day that was particularly stressful. I would have loved to have had someone like her caring for my parents.

So I am grateful CCSC could help during this time in her life, knowing that when she finds her next job, she will be a gift to other families who are caring for an aging parent.

Friday, October 2, 2015

No canned beets for me, thank you


Or wax beans either. I would gag if I had to eat either one of those.

This is the season for food drives, and it's great for CCSC because it fills our pantries. Some of you call our office, wanting to know desired food items, so here goes:
  • think protein: meaty stews, peanut butter, beans & legumes, canned meat
  • avoid carbs: they are already cheap and accessible for families on a limited budget
  • include canned fruits and veggies
The other guideline is to give what you would eat. Now if you like canned beets and wax beans, I guess it's okay to donate those items, but I would pause.

Instead, think of corn, green beans, black beans, tomatoes, carrots, and most canned fruits (light syrup, please) - these are more universally liked. I still remember the elderly client who came to an outdoor food fair we hosted several years ago. She was thrilled and almost giddy when we gave her some canned peaches.

Wherever you live, contribute to your local food pantry, and if CCSC is your pantry, thank you for your support. We're grateful for all donations, even those of beets and waxed beans.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Sleigh bells are ringing

At the Sunshine Resale Shop, we sell Christmas decorations almost year-round, but this week we had the above vintage sleigh donated. It's for sale, along with lots of other holiday goodies. The 1960s mannequin sitting in it (we named her Natasha) is not for sale.

It's hard to think of Christmas when it's 90+ degrees in Houston, but CCSC begins planning for its annual Christmas program, Jingle Bell Express", in August. It takes about five months of work by a volunteer committee and our staff to get the event ready. And of course, we're always looking for volunteers, so if you're interested, below is an upcoming opportunity:


Held at the Blanton Building of St. Luke’s United Methodist (Westheimer campus)

Monday, October 5 from 8:30 A.M. to 2:30 p.m.

Tuesday, October 6 from 8:30A.M. - 1:30P.M.

Wednesday, October 7 from 8:30A.M. - 1:30P.M. 

*Please sign-up with Laurie Fitzpatrick, Youth Services  Manager at 713-961-3993x215

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

I'm sharing a client success story today

Our JobNet Manager recently shared this client story:

"John" was laid off from a construction company that saw its business decline with the decrease in oil prices. His lack of computer skills left him frustrated because he couldn't complete the on-line employment applications required of most companies. So he came regularly to JobNet's Self-Paced Computer Training to develop those skills. He also met with a coach to put a resume together and work on his job search. He told us this was the first time in 20 years he has been unemployed.

As we talked, I learned he had been a safety coordinator and worked several years ago for a notable company here in Houston. We forwarded his resume to the HR Director there, just to see what might happen. The next morning, John received a call from the company and began employment that afternoon.

This client needed just a little: computer skills, coaching, and someone to push him to send his resume to the right person.  Many of our clients need just a few targeted things like this to propel them forward, and this is how JobNet is effective.

This morning I spoke to another client who was laid off due to the oil industry. She has utilized JobNet, but this morning was receiving food from our pantry. She was upbeat and optimistic that she would find work soon. In the meantime, CCSC is here to help, both for her family's immediate needs as well as for the longer process of conducting her job search.

These two stories are about Houston's economy and it's ties to the energy sector, but we help people from a variety of backgrounds through the ups and downs of the economy. Many of our clients face enormous challenges and obstacles, so it's rewarding for me to hear (and share) the stories with a happy ending, like John's.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Maybe we need to stop talking?

If you haven’t read the prior blog (posted on August 13), please read it before reading this one.
Okay. So after posting that blog, a CCSC friend called to say how much she appreciated reading about the Jeters and seeing people like them lifted up. We spoke about the ordinary people we both know who live their faith out in daily life, providing a strong example of what it means to be a Christian.
Then she mused, “I wonder what it would be like if all Christians stopped talking for 40 days (40 days being a biblical timeframe) and had to witness to their faith only by their actions?” 
Now, I know some of you are having a heart attack right now, thinking this would be fundamentally wrong. And I agree that we are called to use our words to explain why our faith matters. In fact, I think some of us are too passive in not verbalizing how our faith changes who we are and how we see the world. 
But I also think a 40 day fast from talking, replaced by 40 days of action, could be transformative. And powerful. There is a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that says, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” 
Perhaps a healthy balance of words and action is what’s needed.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Being a Christian is about doing

There are many stories I could share of faith in action, so this is just one coming out of our 41 covenant churches.

A few months ago I spoke at Sharpstown Baptist Church, giving a “moment for mission” on CCSC.

While at the church, I learned that Mike & Alaine Jeter (the pastor and his wife) had become aware of a small community of people living near the church who had needs. Instead of forming a committee to study the problem, they announced one Sunday that their congregation had an opportunity to help these families, and they were going to begin with tutoring the children to help them in school.

The first volunteers were Mike and Alaine. Each week, they and others go to this apartment complex to help the mostly elementary school-aged children with their homework.

On the Sunday I spoke, these children all sat with Alaine until children’s church began. It was obvious that a genuine affection had grown between them, and when I asked about it later, Mike said he and Alaine considered these children to be their grandchildren. Alaine has since begun a woman’s program to deepen relations between the children’s mothers and the women of the church.

Mike and Alaine are also active volunteers with CCSC as well as with other organizations connected to their church. While I know they use their voices to talk about their beliefs, it appears to me that a lot of their energy goes into “doing” and “being” Christians.

And it reminds me of the famous adage, actions speak louder than words.

Monday, August 3, 2015

A story from the neighborhood

Recently CCSC's Office Manager and I were visiting with a neighbor whose business is near our offices. His building is a pedestal building: the parking lot is on the ground floor with office space on the second and higher floors.

He had a story for us. A few years ago, CCSC was helping a homeless woman with food as well as other services. For a period of time she slept in our neighbor's parking area, since it protected her from the weather. Our neighbor said it was not ideal for his business, but he wasn't comfortable asking her to leave. He felt compassion for her.

One evening as he left his office, he saw her reading a pamphlet about how to become a commercial bus driver. She told him this was her goal, and over time, she achieved this goal. CCSC never knew this part of her story - she simply stopped coming to us - so it was good to know she didn't disappear into the streets.

Between our services and his kindness, she had shelter and food during a rough time in her life.

Somewhere in Houston she now drives a bus, carrying passengers to their destinations. I imagine she's grateful for the job and pleased that our neighborhood is no longer her home, but maybe just an area of town she passes during the workday.

Friday, July 24, 2015

I should have posted this on Father's Day...

Our food pantries help all kinds of families, including single parents raising children. Most of those single parents are women, but a small percentage are men. This summer we've helped two of these men, and both families were abandoned by the mothers.

The first was a father of four, with children ranging in age from eight to twelve. They were living in their car, and the father did odd jobs to earn money for gas and food. At the time they walked into our facility, the Dad had found a permanent job, and a church was providing six months of housing so he could save his money. We helped with food, clothing, and personal hygiene items. This father has a college degree, but his wife walking out was the tipping point in the family's overall well-being.

The other father was also deserted by his wife, leaving him as the sole provider and nurturer of six children. His wife had stayed home to care for the children, which meant when she left, his modest income had to be stretched to provide for child care expenses. This father also came for food and clothes, and we enrolled the children in our Back To School program.

The women and men who are single parents have it tough enough just parenting alone. Tossing in financial insecurity and spousal abandonment (as well as helping your children cope with the abandonment), seems like a heavy burden to bear.

I did not meet these men, so their stories were shared with me. When I take in all the volunteers told me, I imagine both men as quietly sad but resolute in doing right by their children. I imagine their children as adults, reflecting back, and seeing their fathers as men of steel: men who could keep the family marching forward until the road of life softened a bit. I'm glad CCSC was there for them.

Monday, July 6, 2015

This is a long one, and it ends with a Baptist and a Catholic

I was speaking to a group earlier this year, and a woman came over, introduced herself, and let me know that she regularly reads my blog and wondered why I haven’t addressed “the judgmental tendencies some Christians have with the poor”. Ouch. “Probably because I don’t want to touch that,” I thought.

But her question has stayed with me, and I understand what she’s saying. There is a view out there that says the poor have done something wrong and kind of deserve the situation they’re in.  

I’m not a researcher so I have no intention of writing a blog noting the latest research and statistics on the poor. Instead, I’d like to share what I’ve seen firsthand in 20+ years of running this ministry as well as what the Christian faith says to us about the poor.

I believe the poor are like any other group of people in that some are Type A while others are laid back; some are optimistic while others are pessimistic; some have an exceptional work ethic, often holding two or more jobs, while others will do the bare minimum to get by. Get any group of people together and there will be different traits, behaviors, and outlooks; we are all unique. So I don’t believe the poor are any more likely to take advantage of others or any less likely to work hard.

In sitting across from hundreds of clients over the years, I’ve seen everything one can imagine. I’ve seen clients cry at their life circumstances while others had a more stoic view. I’ve seen people accepting of their situation because they’re working to make things better for their children, and I’ve seen people who can’t think beyond tomorrow because the crises they’ve endured have shut down their long-term planning abilities. I’ve seen great faith in God’s love and care as well as anger at God. I’ve seen hunger, despair, gratitude and hope.

Over time, I’ve learned to resist the natural human instinct to judge, even those who are unpleasant, because I don’t know how I would react to the situations others experience. None of us know exactly what it’s like to live another person’s experience, whether that experience is positive or negative.

But more than that, I try really hard to apply the lessons of the gospel: forgiving others, giving generously without expectation of reciprocity, and not judging others, even people who are unfair to me. Let me be clear: these teachings of Jesus are difficult, and I fail much more often than I succeed, but it’s a rudder for who to be and how to be in this world. So the Gospel holds me accountable for my own behavior.

Regarding the Christian scriptures, I’m not a biblical scholar, so I reached out to some local clergy to hear their perspectives on the poor.

Reverend Clint Reiff, Senior Pastor of Rice Temple Baptist Church, says to ignore or deal unjustly with the poor is a sin. Reverend Reiff states, “It is not an option or an addition to our faith, but a command from God: it is part of His nature to love and defend the poor. When Jesus fed the five thousand, he did not question them to see if they would be his disciples, donate to the cause, or even ask the cause for their hunger. He simple extended grace in the form of food. I don’t think we should search for a reason not to help the poor, but should simply err on the side of grace.”

Reverend Reiff refers us to the following verses of scripture:

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” – Deuteronomy 15:11

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? "- 1 John 3:17

"The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” - Proverbs 29:7

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” - Proverbs 31:8-9  

Catholic social teaching is clear that followers of Jesus are to care for the needy and those forgotten by the world. Father Phil Lloyd from St. Theresa Catholic Church also reminds us of how important it is to care for the poor. He lifted up this verse of scripture for reflection:”Your abundance at the present time should supply their needs. So that their abundance may also supply your needs, that there may be equality.”  2 Corinthians 8:14.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Are you rich in what matters?

If he were alive, today would be my father's 76th birthday. I miss him a lot, and as the years have passed, my gratitude for having him in my life has grown. He not only took care of my basic needs (food, clothing, shelter), but also encouraged me, modeled an authentic life of faith, and taught me many lessons including how to budget and save money, how to persevere when life is hard, and why good friends - and being a good friend - matter.  

I share this because most poverty experts know that escaping poverty is not solely about financial resources. It's also about having emotional and spiritual resources as well as people in your life who model good behavior, teach you life lessons, and support you unconditionally.

Conversely, there are people with lots of money, who may be poor in spirit or in friendship. Money can make life run smoothly, but it doesn't absolve you of loneliness, give you internal fortitude when times are tough, or enrich your life with faith, joy or love.

A client we helped several times over a period of years lived with fragile financial resources, but had a happy spirit and the tenacity to keep going and push her children to achieve academically. She also had a firm faith in God's daily presence in her life. She was poor in one thing - money - but wealthy in so many other ways.

Sometimes I think it's healthy to pause and account for all the non-monetary blessings in our lives and to set goals for accumulating more of these riches: patience, compassion, joy, friendship and love.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

We've received some interesting donations...

Because we operate a couple of food pantries, a resale shop, and a clothing distribution area, we ask for (and gratefully receive) food, clothing and household items daily.

For fun, I'd like to share some of the more creative donations sent to us over the years:
  • the skull of an unidentified mammal
  • a can of "Kick-A** Chili"
  • a box of old, rusty batteries
  • a yellowed casting of someone's teeth
  • x-rated literature
  • a can of turtle soup (with a real turtle in it!) that was 20 years old
Occasionally at staff meeting, we'll have a "show and tell" when these items come through, and this provides much levity. But of course these donations aren't exactly what CCSC needs, so below is a list of what we do need: 
  • non-perishable food, especially high-protein items
  • fresh produce
  • shampoo, soap, toothpaste & toothbrush, deodorant, etc...
  • gently used clothing (note that we're always low on children's and men's clothing)
  • feminine hygiene items
And our resale shop takes furniture, household items, and clothing. The shop will sell almost anything, but we couldn't give away rusty batteries or a casting of someone else's teeth, much less sell them. However, unusual but useful items, like the frog pitcher below, are desired.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Thank you from a mother

Recently we received a thank you note from a mother:

I'm writing this letter to tell you how thankful I am for all the help you have given me and my family. There was a time when my husband was not working, and I was pregnant. Whenever I had a craving, we would gather all the nickels and dimes to buy whatever it was I craved.

After my daughter was born, I found your center, and you helped me so much with clothes, diapers, and sometimes even formula. Words cannot begin to describe how blessed I have been with your help...May God multiply your blessings, each and every one of you at CCSC.

I didn't include the full letter, but she came to us more than once and recounts how she cried during one visit because of the kindness of the volunteers. Kindness made her cry.

What makes CCSC's ministry unique is not what our programs and services offer. Rather, it is our organizational culture: a culture that says everyone is worthy of being treated with dignity and respect because as a Christ-based organization, we are called to see the face of Christ in everyone we encounter. Some days that's easy, and some days it's not, but it is a value we strive to live.

Summer is here, and we need more volunteers. So if you're looking to be part of an excellent organization, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Kate Gallup, at

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Love, abide, joy, friends

This morning, CCSC hosted a breakfast for its clergy, and each table discussed the verse of scripture below. Initially, each person shared the word that stood out to him/her in the reading of the passage; then we discussed the passage more in-depth.

It was a rich discussion, so I'm sharing some of the words my table highlighted along with some questions I took away in hopes it will cause you to also look deeply within.
  • Love
  • Abide
  • Joy
  • Friends
What does it mean to lay down your life for your friends, especially since most of us won't be called to sacrifice our lives for our friends?

How is joy different from happiness?

How do people who suffer find joy?

Does your life bear fruit?

How do we show love to the people in are lives who are difficult to love?

John 15:9-17

9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Why I Attend Church

A friend read one of my prior blogs and suggested I write on why I go to church. She stated that since church attendance is declining in the United States, my family and I are “counter-cultural”, and I should write about that.
Hmm…I’ve never considered myself or my family counter-cultural.
For me, attending church is a way of life: I don’t wake up on Sunday mornings wondering if I should go to church just as I don’t wake up during the week questioning if I should go to work. Five days a week I go to work, one day a week is somewhat open, and one day a week I go to church. Those decisions are already made.
The main reason I attend church is because I want to strengthen my spiritual life, and church is my foundation for that pursuit. One day a week, I pray, sing, and listen to a sermon that will challenge me to model my life more closely with the life of Jesus. It’s a weekly spiritual tune-up that sets the tone for the rest of the week and keeps me committed to daily spiritual disciplines.
Another friend of mine is a committed Christ-follower, but not a church goer. If she were proofing this blog, she would note that one doesn’t have to attend church to follow Jesus. And I believe she is correct.
But it’s a lot harder to do something alone than with others. If I had to rely on myself to apply the Gospel of Christ to my life, I’d probably get distracted and disoriented.  My scheduled tune-up provides guidance, support, and friends to share it with.   
Lots of people I love are not in the church world, so I’ve heard most of the criticism that’s out there:
·         Throughout history, the church has done awful things in the name of God. True. No one can erase this history, but a balanced view shows the church has also been extravagant in meeting the needs of people who suffer. I feel I can best influence the church for good by being part of it.
·         The church isn’t relevant to my life. Some churches may not be relevant or mission-focused, but it’s unfair to lump all of them into that one category.
·         I know some pious people who attend church but are still generally unkind people. Me too. I avoid letting them influence me. I also know people who are not religious but are caring, ethical, kind people.
For every church that’s not following its mission, there are many more comprised of good, solid people trying to understand God’s presence in their life.  I choose to journey through life with them, and it’s been the right decision for me and my family. And I have the privilege of working for an institution that is a coalition of 41 churches (Christian Community Service Center) who set aside theological differences to help the poor in our community. I see firsthand how churches enhance their communities.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

We have the best stories...

After Hurricane Ike hit our coast, and after her husband left her, she was distraught and walking in her neighborhood. She told us a woman (who she'd never seen before) walked up to comfort her. Upon hearing her troubles, this kind-hearted stranger handed her a flyer on CCSC's newly-opened food pantry which she just happened to have in her hand.

Our client refers to this person as "her angel" because she seemingly appeared out of nowhere with exactly what was needed... and then disappeared, never to be seen again.

This family needs our pantry. They have stabilized since the shock of being abandoned, but still need occasional help. So they come to us about six times/year, and we make sure they don't go hungry.

Hearing this story today affirmed something I believe: God touches us through other people.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Does confidence matter? How about friendship?

This afternoon I spent time in one of the Martha's Way classes, visiting with the students (who are all women). Four graduated today and are about to embark on building their business, so I asked lots of questions to learn more about them and how we're impacting their lives.

It was a great conversation, and there's most definitely a sense of camaraderie among the students. One woman, who was a victim of domestic violence, said the other women gave her great support which has helped her to transition from a bad home, to a shelter, and then eventually out on her own. The program has given her the tools she needs to earn an income for herself and her two children.

Another woman said the program gave her confidence that she didn't have before. She plans to create a business with her mother and sister, and her entire being said "I am so excited to do this!"

Hearing all the stories and observing the relationships made it clear that while the class curriculum is superb, the friendships formed and subsequent mutual support are also vital to the program's success.

I drove back to my office grateful to have spent some time with these wonderful women and grateful for the friendships in my own life. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Holy Spirit in you, the Holy Spirit in me

I love this picture because of the little sign to the left.  How could our interactions with others be different if we saw the holy in each person?

In the last few months, I've attended several memorial services for CCSC volunteers who helped to establish and grow the organization in its early days. In nearly every service, family members would share how much their loved one enjoyed volunteering with us. The adult daughter of one said her father's time with CCSC changed his life, his perspective on the poor, and his understanding of how a life of faith is to be lived. "Because it so influenced his life," she said, "it has also influenced mine."

So whose lives do you influence, and do your actions match your values?  For most of us, narrowing the gap between values and action is a life-long journey, and in my opinion, the journey is best traveled in a faith community. If you don't have a church home, start checking out churches in your neighborhood, and then once you find the right one, jump in. Join a small group where you can get to know others as you dive deeper into the spiritual side of your life.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Toothpaste, again

Last Friday we nearly ran out of toothpaste. I say "nearly" because just as a staff member was leaving to purchase some, the doorbell rang, and outside was a 9 year old boy and his mother. With a box filled with toothpaste.

God's wonderful timing, right?

But the best part of the story is the 9 year old boy. He recently celebrated his birthday, and instead of gifts, he had his friends donate toothpaste for CCSC's food pantry. I imagine him saying to his friends, "No gifts for me, thank you, but I want to help people who don't have anything so would you bring toothpaste to my party instead?"

Kudos to this boy's parents for teaching him to think of others. I love seeing philanthropy nurtured in youth because the people I admire most in the world are generous, loving and outwardly focused.  And these qualities are nurtured and cultivated over time, from when we are young and teachable.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hunger in Houston

Last week I sat through the interview of a single mother to a young, elementary school-aged girl. The mother works, was laid off, and had been rehired. All in six weeks.  She barely missed a paycheck, but a "barely miss" at her income level was enough: she couldn't quite pay her rent and had already begun cutting back on her own food portions so her little girl would have enough to eat.

She walked into a CCSC church, asking for help, and was sent over to us.  By the time she left, we had completed her rental payment, provided food, and shared how our children's programs could help her daughter in the coming year. 

We helped 198 other families last week who also found themselves in undesirable situations. Each family is interviewed to ensure they qualify for assistance, and then we provide for their immediate needs and connect them to other resources, both within CCSC and with other agencies.  The people who hear the stories, answer the phones, sack the food, and provide direct assistance are volunteers. So if you're looking for a meaningful volunteer job, please call our office at 713-961-3993. We'd love to have you involved in our work.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Did you brush your teeth this morning?

It's the first thing I do in the morning, and I don't think about it. Most of us don't. Yet, CCSC just ran out of toothbrushes at one of the food pantries, a highly requested item by the people who come to us hungry.

I have to remind my 13-year old son to brush his teeth regularly because he dislikes doing it. Last year, when he was on a week-long camp out, he didn't brush his teeth all week.  But I digress.  I need to tell my son that oral hygiene is a privilege and a luxury, not simply a chore.  This is one of the many things in life we take for granted.

By the way, the other highly requested item besides food and toothpaste is bibles. They fly off our shelves. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Are your hands open?

We've finalized our numbers for 2014, and now know precisely how many people we helped and how we helped them. On Tuesday night, we shared these results at our Annual Meeting.  The new Board President, The Reverend Patrick J. Miller from St. Mark's Episcopal Church, did some quick math during the meeting and then shared an interesting statistic:

If CCSC didn't exist, each of our 41 member churches would have been expected to help 1,600 Houstonians last year with food, basic needs, employment services, connections to other community resources, and/or the seasonal needs of children.

Each church working alone would be inefficient, especially considering how many of the churches are located near each other. CCSC's purpose is to be the local outreach office on behalf of each church, minimizing the duplication of services and creating a more efficient delivery system.

As we begin 2015, it's good to remember our purpose.

The picture below is of the stained glass in Bethany Christian Church. I'm sure it reflects a particular verse of scripture, but whenever I see a picture of Jesus with his hands open, I think he's telling us we should also have our hands open, ready to serve. Do you?

Friday, January 9, 2015

It really is the people who matter

CCSC's JobNet Manager sent out her program's newly-completed 2014 statistics this morning. She began her email with a statement about the quality of work done, noting the many individual lives this program positively impacted. She then shared a few client stories followed by a dashboard view of the statistics.

I love that our staff meticulously tracks and maintains program statistics (which are a valuable tool) while staying focused on the people behind the numbers.  We value a balanced view of quantitative information coupled with qualitative, non-measurable data. It's like using both the left and right sides of your brain.

Here is a snapshot of a few clients who successfully used JobNet this past year:
  • Mary completed an on-line application at CCSC and had a phone call for an interview when she got home that day
  • Ben landed his ideal job after being prepped by one of our volunteer coaches
  • Eva spent her summer at JobNet, researching teaching jobs and ultimately finding just the right fit
  • John, who came faithfully after serving a prison term, found a job in the public sector
  • Anne gained confidence through coaching and workshops and was able to find a job that fits her current stage in life
If you know anyone who is struggling in their job search, have them call JobNet at 713-626-8320. We'd love to help.