Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy house

Has it really been 12 days since my last blog post? Yes? Time flies when you're buying your first home.

It's finally official: Taylor and I have vacated our Fairfield apartment and are now settling into our new home in Cincinnati! We put our offer in on February 4th, and on May 29th we finally closed on the house--one day before we were due to move out of our apartment. If you are thinking, "Wow, they really cut it close," you'd be right. The house was a short sale, and was probably the most complicated transaction we will ever make in our lifetime. All I will say is thank goodness for our attorney. We really owe him one (er...more than one...he was pretty expensive, actually).

As I write this, I am surrounded by boxes and a growing list of "to-dos" on a paper plate (we haven't found the box with all of our paper quite yet). Home ownership is pretty interesting. Although our monthly mortgage payments are actually lower than our rent, we have a significant increase in other expenses to accompany that payment. For example, taxes and insurance. Plumbing repairs (oh yes--despite paying a plumber to fix a leak in the upstairs bathroom before closing, we found that our downstairs toilet also leaks not only in the bathroom but in the basement, as well.) Appliances. Tools. Basically, everything we never needed when under the thumb of a landlord.

But you know what? It's all worth it. It's worth it that we own land on which we can grow our own food. It's worth it that we can finally paint the walls any color other than white if we so choose. That we have more space for us and our things. That we are building equity. The crummy thing about renting is that when we handed over our rent check at the beginning of each month, we never saw it again. Sure it paid for a roof over our head, but that was it. It just met a basic need in the moment--there was no investment. Of course, that's what poverty is really about--living in the 'now.'

We still don't have a lot of money, but we're smart with the money we do have. After a year of scrimping and saving, of food stamps and hand-me-downs, we're moving up. That, after all, was the goal. We knew we wouldn't live in poverty forever, but we certainly never dreamed we'd be in our 4 bedroom, 2 bath cape cod so soon. Yet, as we continue to move forward, I think it's important to keep looking back. I don't ever want to forget what it was like to not have enough.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Philanthropy in Action

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the Kiwanis Club of Fairfield's weekly meeting to request funding on behalf of the Butler County School Supply Coalition's Kits for Kids Campaign. I arrived a little before noon at Richard's Pizza in Fairfield and made my way to the private party room where all sorts of Kiwanis banners were set up for the meeting. The president of the club immediately welcomed me and accompanied me to the counter where she said, "Lunch is on us!" I placed my order and went back to the party room to relax before lunch and my presentation.

Shortly after that, I was joined by the second presenter, and we chatted about our projects. He was there requesting funding on behalf of The Joe Nuxhall Character Education Fund/Therapeutic Recreation for the Disabled. Their goal is to build two rubberized, solid-surface softball fields, including wheelchair accessible dugouts, restrooms and parking lots, as well as spectator bleachers, fencing, lighting, a scoreboard, and concession stands. The project totals $1.9 million dollars, and they've already raised one million towards their goal, but need more community support.

We ate our lunches, heard some official Kiwanis business, and then it was time for our presentations. I had a lot of data and numbers to share specific to Fairfield City Schools. Angie from Princeton Pike Church of God had loaned me two of her sample school supply kits to show the group, as well. I hadn't even finished speaking when the treasurer opened the club's check book and wrote a check for $100. And he didn't stop there--he then opened his personal check book and made a $55 contribution to the campaign.

Thank you to the Kiwanis Club of Fairfield for not only allowing me to speak to your group, but for so warmly treating me to lunch, as well! I appreciate the hospitality and generosity of your group.

Speaking of generosity, I also need to give a shout out to my dear friend Ava Ansorg's Girl Scout Troop! I have known Ava for about 5 years, and in that time I have watched her grow into a caring, service-minded young lady. Ava's troop raised more money than they needed last year with cookie sales and other fund-raisers, so they were looking for a way to give back to the community. I suggested the Butler County School Supply Coalition to them, and they liked the idea so much that the girls voted to give $500 to the campaign! They could have easily kept the money for a few extra pizza parties or field trips, but they decided to give it away instead. I am so proud and grateful for this philanthropic group of young leaders in our community. THANK YOU!

Lastly, thanks to the Xi Lambda Pi Chapter of Beta Sigma Phi Sorority at Miami University Middletown. With so much press surrounding Miami University sororities' and fraternities' bad behavior lately, it's refreshing to see a sorority doing something positive for their community. We are pleased to accept your $100 contribution for the students in Middletown City Schools. Thanks!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My first grant.

It seems like only yesterday I was hand-delivering my grant proposal to the Middletown Community Foundation's Youth Advisory Council. And today, just two months later, I accepted a $4,500 check on behalf of the Butler County School Supply Coalition at the Youth Advisory Council Celebration Luncheon.

This luncheon was memorable for a few reasons:
1) Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.
2) Tina Osso's wonderful presence at our table.
3) The check for the first grant I ever wrote.

When I applied for this position, I listed grant-writing skills on my application. This statement was somewhat accurate. In college I wrote a couple of funding requests for a Disability Studies conference I attended with Taylor in NYC back in 2008. We had worked to increase accessibility on campus, and we wanted to present our work at this international conference. I submitted a few loose grant requests to help us get to NYC, and amazingly, some of our "proposals" were accepted. It's difficult to recall exactly how much money we needed, but I know we didn't get enough. Taylor and I stayed in a miserable youth hostel, and we ate hot dogs and pizza from street vendors all week. For every meal. Including breakfast.

So when I realized that I would be responsible for the nearly $100,000 Kits for Kids campaign, I was understandably nervous. I had no real experience in grant-writing or budgeting, unless you count my measly little proposals to the Miami University Parents' Club for a few hundred dollars. (And those weren't even all that successful!) Thank goodness for a crash course in grant-seeking at the Cincinnati Library and Tina's patient guidance and proof-reading along the way.

Maybe that's why it was so fun to accept our check today--my first official grant and I had finally come full circle. Thank you, Tina and the rest of the coalition, for trusting me to write requests for thousands of dollars for this important project. Although it was a stressful process, I have enjoyed learning the basics of grant-writing, and I look forward to legitimately adding this skill to my resume.

(Speaking of my resume, if any employers out there would like to see my grant-writing skills in action, please don't hesitate to hire me. I am available to begin work on Monday, June 21st. Seriously.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Stamp Out Hunger

Last Saturday, Taylor and I helped at the Stamp Out Hunger food drive with the National Association of Letter Carriers (aka the post office). Before I go too much further, I'd like to point out that I am a Stamp Out Hunger veteran. I volunteered with this food drive in Urbana back in 2004, so I had to sport my old t-shirt for the occasion.

My 6-year anniversary with Stamp Out Hunger!

The food drive basically worked like this: on the second Saturday in May, people all around the country put bags of food by their mailboxes. Letter carriers picked up the food along their routes and brought it back to the post office. A group of volunteers then met the letter carriers at the post office and unloaded the food from their trucks. We put the food into giant boxes on pallets, which were then loaded into a giant trailer and taken to Shared Harvest.

To get a better idea of the process, here are a few pictures:

Stamp Out Hunger in Fairfield was a family affair! Here are Alex's parents assembling a giant box for food collection.

When a truck pulled in, we jumped into action, ready to unload the food onto the carts.

Inside, volunteers transferred the food from the bins into the giant boxes.

When a box was full, the guys loaded it into the trailer for delivery to the foodbank.

The Stamp Out Hunger food drive is so cool because it is a nation-wide project. I read online today that this year's drive yielded 19,724,393 pounds of food across the country, with 1,000 post offices yet to report their totals. That means that this year pushed the 18-year campaign over the 1 billion pound mark. One billion pounds of food!

For more info and pictures of our local efforts in Fairfield, click here for Alex's account of the day!

Monday, May 10, 2010


Friday held one of my worst moments as an AmeriCorps*VISTA member to date. But I'll get to that in a second.

We left Shared Harvest mid- Friday morning to visit some potential OBB sites in Warren County, primarily in the Franklin area, with a short excursion to Carlisle for flavor. The day started off like any other--we hopped in the car, programmed the GPS, and made our way from site to site, with OBB fliers in hand. Just before lunch, we found the Deardoff Senior Center. They had some OBB literature in their lobby already, but we had no record of them as a site, so we decided to press on. The director (and only paid staff person) seemed busy but took the time to talk with us about bringing the OBB to the center. She was so into the idea, that she couldn't help giving us a small tour of the facility, as well! Her enthusiasm was so encouraging, and we look forward to working with them as a new OBB site.

Many of the sites we scout out are either closed at the time of the visit, or the main decision maker is not in. We have "sorry we missed you" letters for these places, and while we hope not to have to leave them, we found it is sometimes better than speaking with a decision-maker. Case in point: Hillcrest Baptist Church in Carlisle. It was the last stop of the day, and we were coming off of some great visits with potential sites in Franklin. We walked into the church to find the entire entry-way and downstairs office dark. We heard some noise upstairs, though, so we decided to check it out. Sure enough, we had stumbled upon the pastor's office. The contact person with their food pantry was not in, so the pastor invited us in to talk about the OBB with him personally. It was a pleasant enough gesture--but things quickly went downhill from there.

Turns out that this church used to be a partner with Shared Harvest. Used to be. They chose to stop receiving food when they were told they couldn't proselytize and distribute USDA government food products. Giving food was apparently not enough to show God's love--they had to be able to tell people about it too. So the pastor shut down the entire operation, claiming that if they couldn't give food his way they wouldn't give food at all. The pastor was still angry about this, and that's how the visit started. We told them about how the OBB wasn't directly connected with food distribution, but the point just never sunk in. The pastor and his secretary spent a majority of the visit complaining about how people in poverty use and abuse the system. They used two examples to pass judgment on all poor people, and to rationalize why they didn't have to help. The pastor and his secretary were so cynical and stubborn, that they wouldn't listen to what the OBB was even about--we could tell they were just trying to think of their next 'zinger.' The topic of conversation quickly shifted from the OBB to philosophies of life in poverty in general. Even if this church would not be an OBB site, I felt an obligation to the families of Carlisle to at least try to change this man's attitude toward people in need.

About 40 minutes in, though, I realized he was a lost cause. The pastor had become so combative that he mocked Alex and me, rolling his eyes and laughing in our faces. At that point, we started gathering our materials to leave. The pastor abruptly grabbed some fliers out of my hand as if to indicate sudden interest in the program. We stood up, respectfully told them that we would not be working with them in the future, and turned to leave. With a smirk, the secretary said they were just having a "bad day." Which is, of course, a perfect excuse to ruin our day.

I really wouldn't have had a problem with the pastor just saying, "We're not interested in becoming a site. Thanks for stopping by." But the pastor needed to hold his power over us, just like he does with the people who come to him for help. So he invited us in to bash all people in poverty and to insult the ones who are trying to do something to help. It is clear that this man is just a wolf in sheep's clothing. He claims to love and help all people unconditionally, but the message is lost among the hundreds of strings and judgments attached to his services. Just another example of the type of person I don't want to be.

Friday, May 7, 2010

To Indiana and Beyond!

On Monday, Alex and I ventured out to find a few more OBB sites. This time we focused exclusively on Preble County, a large rural county situated just north of Butler County. A few weeks ago, we sent some letters to some agencies/organizations/churches that seemed like a good fit with the OBB. We told them we would be in the area on Monday, May 3rd, and that we would love to set up a time to meet with them and talk about the OBB. Otherwise, we would just stop in to say hello.

We didn't hear from anyone, so when we hit the road Monday morning, we didn't know what to expect. After a little less than an hour of driving, we arrived at Higher Heights Church of God, a small church outside of Camden, Ohio. They have a food pantry there, and we were hoping they would expand their services to include the Ohio Benefit Bank, as well. And guess what--they loved the idea! We hope to bring them on board as a site in the coming week or so.

We were one for one.

After that, our journey went a little downhill. We drove all over rural Preble County looking for small food pantries/food banks on our list. Many of the addresses we had were either non-existent or led us to residential neighborhoods. We drove around, desperately searching for some signs of these places, but just couldn't find them. When we arrived in Eaton, we were able to find the agencies, but no one was there for us to speak with! So we had to leave our information and hope to follow up soon.

Finally the last stop of the day was a church/school in New Paris, Ohio. We programmed the GPS and took off. After about 30 minutes of driving through cornfields and soybean rows, we realized that we were getting closer and closer to the Indiana state line. Still, our address was an Ohio one, so we pressed on. When the GPS indicated that we had arrived, we looked around to find ourselves on a small farm. It didn't look right, but we saw a man working on a tractor so we figured we'd pull in and at least ask for directions. Turns out this man was very friendly. And chatty. He pointed to a dirt path leading up a hill and into some woods, and said that was the direction we needed to go. He then proceeded to talk to us for a LONG time about the property, as well as the flora and fauna within. We slowly and graciously backed away towards the car before we finally said "Okay, thanks, bye!" just so we could keep moving!

Now in the car, we drove down a dusty dirt road that twisted and turned through the woods. Finally we made it to the school only to find that we had, indeed, crossed the Indiana border along the way. Not wanting to recruit an Indiana site to use an Ohio program, we kept on driving until we were back on the highway. The GPS was confused, but eventually we found our way back to the Buckeye State:

We'll stop at nothing (including the state line!) to find more OBB sites.

Today we're headed into Warren County to start site recruitment there. We have more than 40 sites to visit, which we have divided up over 4 days. We're hoping we have better luck finding the sites on our list this time, and that we don't end up in another state!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Celebrate Youth

April showers bring May dollars. Or something like that.

I just received word that the Middletown Community Foundation Youth Advisory Council is awarding $4500 to the Kits for Kids Campaign! We've also been invited to attend the Council's annual celebration luncheon on May 12th, where we will receive our check. I hope it's a big giant novelty check. It's been one of my life dreams to accept one of those things!

Whatever the size of check, though, we'll take $4500 and run with it. This money will purchase 818 school supply kits for kids throughout the Middletown, Monroe, Madison, and Edgewood School Districts. This contribution also takes our county-wide campaign up to $33,484, which is more than 1/3 of our fund-raising goal. (And if I'm correct, we're about $2,000 away from breaking a campaign record.) Help us get there! Send in your donations today!