Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Getting oriented

Last Friday I attended my MSW orientation session at University of Cincinnati. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, and I was a little nervous to step back into academia after a year off in the "real world." But after an hour of flipping through my program binder and listening to more details about the degree, I'm feeling much more excited about heading back to school this fall.

One important detail I learned last week is that starting in my second quarter, I'll have 16 hours of field experience at a local non-profit or government agency each week. This experience is unpaid, and an additional requirement on top of my regular class schedule. And it'll be this way until I graduate in June of 2012.

With 16 hours of field experience and 16 hours of classes this fall, it doesn't leave me with much time for work, especially not at a full-time position. I considered dropping to part time at UC so that I could work more, but eventually the field experience requirement would catch up to me and create scheduling conflicts anyway. Taylor and I decided the best thing at this point is to go full time and get done as quickly as possible so that I am free to take a position I want without the stress of graduate school hanging over my head.

As good as it is to know this now, it's still a little disappointing. Today I was offered a full time position with Interfaith Hospitality Network as their Childcare Coordinator and I had to turn it down because of school. They plan to keep me in mind for a part-time position that may open up soon, but as of now I'm still unemployed. In a few weeks I may be starting as a paid on-call advocate with YWCA's House of Peace in Greater Cincinnati, but those hours won't be set in stone. And of course I still have my 10-hour/week work study position starting in late September when school starts.

So I'm still looking for a part time job but if I don't find one I'm not stressing. Between graduate school, field experience, work study, and an on-call position, I'll be plenty busy this school year. I'm lucky to have such a supportive partner, both emotionally and financially, to be in such a good position!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dateline documentary

I've received quite a few Facebook invitations to this event, so I thought I'd pass it on to you. This Sunday, July 25th, Ann Curry features rural, hard-working Southeast Ohioans who are living on the brink. Check out this blurb I borrowed from the Dateline website below to learn more.

Sunday, July 25:

'America Now: Friends and Neighbors'

Ann Curry/NBC News

"For some this economy may be turning around but the reality is millions of families are at risk of going hungry, in one of the richest nations on earth. In the past two years alone, the number of Americans visiting food pantries has jumped 30 percent. Over the last nine months, "Dateline" focused its cameras on how the Great Recession has impacted some of the poorest people in America – those who are the first to feel the downturn, and will likely be the last to feel the recovery.

"For the report, "America Now: Friends & Neighbors," airing on Sunday, July 25 (7:00 PM/ET), "Dateline" anchor Ann Curry travels to Ohio where the hardworking poor, with deep traditions in mining, manufacturing and military service, are increasingly seen in food pantry lines ashamed and angry. Recently, the people of Southeast Ohio made pleas for jobs and food written on thousands of paper plates to President Obama. One message reads: "My husband worked hard all his life and he died hungry." Curry interviews people struggling with poverty and unemployment, and reports on what they're doing to make their lives, and their children's lives, better.

"Their stories, and the images, push beyond stereotypes and reveal a hidden America that is both surprising and haunting but nevertheless, hopeful. While most television news reporting on the recession has focused on those with a voice and influence -- the middle class -- this hour-long look at how the recession has affected America's poor is a rare chance for viewers to get a comprehensive look at what poverty looks like over time in the heartland.

"Viewers will hear from a woman who despite being poor herself, opened a food pantry, "Friends & Neighbors," that feeds thousands; a young mother who spent Ohio's cold month of November sleeping in a van with her children ages 1, 2 and 3; an extended family of 14 crowded into a 4-bedroom house to survive; and a father who was laid off and unable to pay for heat so he woke every two hours to feed the woodstove to keep his two young sons warm."

To see a preview of the show, click here. I hope you'll tune in tomorrow night, at 7:00 p.m.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Farmers' Market Incentives

About a year ago,Taylor and I ventured to the Oxford farmers' market to buy some tasty, fresh produce. But this wasn't your typical trip to the farmers' market--this was an experiment in using food stamps to buy local.

If you haven't been here from the beginning, Taylor and I qualified for food stamps for about 7 months while I was serving in the AmeriCorps*VISTA program (click here to read more about that experience.) So when we read a story in the Hamilton JournalNews about the Oxford farmers' market accepting food stamps, we decided to go check it out. We'd been using our EBT card to purchase fresh produce at the grocery store, but would have preferred to buy local straight from the grower. With this program, the folks at the farmers' market were able to convert our food stamps to paper vouchers for use at the farmers' market.

It was a great experience, and had we lived closer to Oxford we probably would have utilized this program more. The only problem was that locally grown produce, while usually fresher and of higher quality, tends to be more expensive than the stuff in the store. On the way home from the market, I remember commenting to Taylor that it would be awesome if we could make our food stamps go a little farther through some kind of incentive program that rewards food stamp users for buying healthy, locally grown food. People seem to have a lot to say about people in poverty making bad food choices. "They shouldn't buy chips, candy and pop; they should use that money to buy healthy food," they say. But, fruits and vegetables are more expensive than the shelf stable junk that many people in poverty fill their carts with. From an economical standpoint, if you're trying to feed your family, you're going to try to get as much food as possible for your dollar, and produce just isn't always the best choice. So it sure would be nice to have an economic incentive to go along with the nutritional benefits of fresh produce.

Well the folks at Findlay Market in Cincinnati seem to understand this concept, launching a new program called SNAP Plus. Through this program, participants can earn up to $120 in matched food stamp dollars for use at the farmers' market. To receive the credit, participants must attend nutrition classes offered by partners of Findlay Market.

Findlay Market has served as a model farmers' market in the state, as one of the first farmers' markets in Ohio to accept food stamps. I hope that this new program will catch on throughout the state (and country, for that matter), so that more people in poverty can have access to healthy, locally grown food at a lower cost.

As Karen Kahle, resource development director at Findlay Market, said, "It helps families on food stamps improve their access to healthy local foods. It helps the farmers in our farmer's market, increases the number of dollars in our farmers market and it also reduces the carbon footprint of the food that we eat."

Couldn't have said it better myself. Well done, Findlay Market!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Smell the roses

A few days after my AmeriCorps service ended, I was talking with my dad about how hard it is to find a job and how desperate I am for work. I was nervous about stranding Taylor with all of our bills while I settled into a mindless routine of daytime talk shows and bon-bons. And my dad, who taught me everything I ever needed to know about hard work and finance, gave me some interesting advice that I wouldn't have expected.

He said, "Take some time for yourself, Kate. This is a rare opportunity for you to relax a little bit and do some things that you want to do. There will always be time for work. You have a long road of work ahead of you, just enjoy this while you can."

Of course, in my frenzied state I disregarded this advice, thinking 'What does he know, anyway?' The mortgage won't pay itself.' Which is true. But I failed to see what my dad was really saying. He was saying, "Continue searching and applying for jobs, but after you've done that, move on to other things you want to accomplish in the day, too. Don't let the pressure of finding a job hold you captive from enjoying life and getting other stuff done."

Or something like that. Still, I found it difficult to close the computer and do something just for me. I thought it was selfish of me to do something fun when I still didn't have a paycheck to bring to the table.

After Taylor found his new job, though, a lot of that job hunt pressure was lifted off of my shoulders. Financially we were fine, and the sense of urgency to replace my income was suddenly gone. But I still couldn't let myself off the hook. I spent way too much time on job search sites, constantly refreshing the web pages, even late into the night, so that I wouldn't miss any brand new postings. After a couple of weeks of this unhealthy, obsessive behavior, I fell into a funk, and started to believe my value as a human being rested only in my ability to find (and keep) the best job ever. And when you're jobless, that means some pretty low days.

I'm trying harder now to not make my entire life about CareerBuilder. To continue searching for jobs, but to move on to other goals, just as my dad said. I want to have something to be proud of, something to share with Taylor when he comes home from work besides, "I applied for 3 jobs on Craigslist. Woo."

I recently shared my problem with a good friend of mine over coffee, who advised that I make a point to schedule "fun time" into my day. She pointed out that I have been really good at focusing on one task (the job-hunt), but lousy at giving attention to anything else that might actually make me happy. I'm still working on it, but in the past few days I've actually gotten quite a bit of stuff done around the house that I've been putting off for no good reason. I've cleaned up an unusable room in our house, I've made a little stepping stool for my elderly cats, and I've been assembling a scrapbook of our wedding pictures--all tangible things that I can hold up at the end of the day and be proud of.

So in short, you were right, Dad. I should take your advice more often.

But don't let it go to your head.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The waiting game

It has been 23 days since my service at Shared Harvest ended. And in the past 23 days, I have frequented Career Builder,, Craigslist, and Idealist more times than I can count. Morning, noon, and night, I pour over the postings, find something that looks promising, and then customize my cover letter and resume to fit the requirements for the position. I gather all of my materials into a carefully edited e-mail, click send, and hope for the best.

So far this process has been tremendously successful for my husband, Taylor. If you recall, Taylor found a new position in a hospital ER and received a promotion, all in about two weeks' time. But this process has been a little slower for me. Sure, I've had some good interviews at some pretty diverse organizations, and that has been a great success in itself. It's difficult to make your resume stand out against literally hundreds of other applicants', and I am truly grateful for the chance to interview.

While each of those interviews has been positive, generally speaking, they just haven't been the best fit with my graduate school schedule this fall, which is a top priority at this point in my life. I already deferred graduate school for a year to do the AmeriCorps*VISTA program, and it's time now to move forward with my educational and professional goals. Working around a rigid course schedule, though, poses an additional challenge in trying to secure gainful employment. At this point, though, I am fortunate to have accepted a work study position at a local nonprofit for the fall. It will offer continued experience in social services, but unfortunately it only offers 10 hours a week or less at a little over minimum wage, so like it or not, I've got to keep searching for at least another part-time job.

It's tough to keep searching and stay optimistic, but every interview is encouragement that I'm on the right path. In the meantime, each day without work is another day not only without pay, but also without the potential for health insurance. It's an uneasy feeling knowing that I am one accident or illness away from serious financial trouble, and it's not a risk I would like to prolong. Yet, millions of young adults are in this same boat. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association:

A recent report by the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that supports health policy and health system reform research, shows that 13.7 million young adults aged 19 to 29 years are uninsured, comprising about 30% of the estimated 46 million individuals without coverage.

As I touched on in a recent post about the state of new college graduates, it's hard enough for my generation to find a job, let alone one with good pay and benefits. Like many of my cohorts, I am looking at a conglomeration of part-time jobs to pay the bills, not necessarily the pretty full-time package that most college grads dream of. And as a result, we've got to get creative to find affordable health insurance.

Option #1: Kick it with the 'rents.
With the new health care legislation, some of my peers are lucky to be able to stay on their parents' insurance plans up until age 26. Even so, many families are having difficulty navigating the new policy change with their employers and insurance companies, leaving many young adults with a gap in coverage or an increase in their premiums. However, I don't think I have this option because I am married now. Wah wah.

Option #2: Marry up.
I am truly fortunate to be in a happy, healthy relationship with lots of love and support. But let's be real--equally important is my husband's full-time job with highly-coveted health benefits. We are still waiting to receive information on the plan, but it looks like his coverage will be extended to me, and it might even be retroactive back to his date of hire. Still, this privilege doesn't sit well with the social rights activist in me. With this kind of system, partners in same-sex relationships are less likely to get employer-sponsored dependent health insurance than their heterosexual counterparts. Of course this inequality, among others, will continue to be an issue as long as same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in this country, but that's an issue for another blog post.

Perhaps on a larger stage is the need for dependent health insurance at all. I had a family studies professor at Miami who shared with the class that her impending need for health insurance was a large factor in deciding whether or not to get married and when. And that was more than a decade ago. The fact that many women (and men, to be fair) still must weigh access to health insurance as a reason to make a lifelong commitment to each other seems sad to me. There need to be other viable options besides saying, "I do."
Option #3: Stay in school.
Universities require that their students have health insurance, and unless you can show proof of coverage, this will be automatically tacked onto your tuition bill. Because I am going back to school, I will have the option to purchase insurance through the University of Cincinnati, which might not be the best, most affordable option, but it is a solid, short-term option should Taylor's health plan not cover me. And if we can't afford it, well, that's what student loans are for, right?

Option #4: Just buy a private plan for yourself.
Of course, if you have a pre-existing condition or limited income, this is probably your worst option, at least through 2014. And hey, even then, no guarantees.

So there you have it. Not only am I trying to find a rewarding, fulfilling position in which I can give back to society, I am also looking for decent pay, decent hours, and health insurance. The odds aren't great, but I'll figure it out.

Come to think of it, maybe I'd do better to play the lottery...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

Making [Social] Change turns 1 today!

That's right, one year ago I started this blog to reflect on my year of service as an AmeriCorps*VISTA member. Now, 165 blog posts later, I'm still going strong! Although my year of service ended in June, I will continue to use this space to reflect on social justice through the eyes of a 20-something, mixed in with a little more personal experiences, as well.

If you've been with me from the beginning or have just become a follower, thanks for your readership. I hope Year 2 will not disappoint.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hail to the Chief

Just a quick post to say "CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!!!!" to my husband, Taylor, on being appointed Chief Scribe in the emergency department where he works. After a unanimous vote by the scribe trainers and the medical director, Taylor was selected to coordinate all of the ER scribes' schedules, to facilitate skill development, and to serve as a liaison between the scribes and the medical practice.

Why? Because he is a good, smart leader. With years of supervisory and leadership experience from old jobs at summer camps and Miami's Rec Center, Taylor was the clear choice for this position. He also is the most level-headed person I know, which comes in handy when the ER is overrun with ailing (or semi-ailing) patients. And quite frankly, he just loves this stuff. Taylor comes home every day with a positive attitude and lots of [non-identifying] stories to tell. Of course, I've always known this about Taylor (which is partially why I married him) and I am glad that his superiors were able to recognize his good qualities so quickly.

So just to recap, in the two short weeks of his new employment in the ER, Taylor has been promoted and his pay has now doubled from when he worked as an EMT. To celebrate, we bought Taylor a Droid phone to "assist" him with his new duties as Chief Scribe and went out to dinner afterward. After going without such luxuries for so long, we are finally in a place that we can do and buy things that we want, not just things that we need. And for the first time, I was able to enjoy dinner without fretting over the bill coming at the end of the meal.

It's a little unfamiliar, but I think I could get used to this financial security thing. :)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Break it down now

One of my favorite housewarming gifts is one that came from Taylor's parents: an Earth Machine. In other words, a composting receptacle!

Composting is a fantastic way to produce hearty, nutrient-rich soil at home. And it's easy, too. We collect scraps from the kitchen and take it out to our composting bin every few days. We dump it inside, cover it with some dry yard waste (grass clippings, leaves, etc.), and we're good to go! The important thing is to make sure that air is getting into the pile so that aerobic microbes can break down the organic matter. Without enough air, the bin will smell like, well, a rotting pile of hot garbage.

It's also important to put the right stuff into the bin. We tend to fill our compost with vegetable scraps, fruit peels, eggshells, and coffee grounds. To avoid attracting flies, we thoroughly cover it with leaves, dead weeds, and yard clippings. But you can't just throw all of your kitchen scraps into the bin. Avoid putting any meat, dairy, fat, or bones into the pile, as these materials break down very slowly and may attract neighborhood pests. Also keep any diseased or chemically-treated plants, pet waste, and pernicious weeds out of your compost. Remember, the things you put in your bin will ultimately go back onto your plants in your yard, which can be especially harmful in a vegetable garden that you're eating from.

Why compost? From a financial perspective, it reduces the cost of purchasing topsoil and fertilizer for your plants. Why buy a big bag of dirt when you can make it yourself? Chances are, your composted material will be a lot richer and healthier than anything you buy in a store because you know exactly what's going into it. Because we're just getting started, we won't be able to use our compost until next growing season, but we know it will be worth the wait.

From an environmental perspective, you will significantly reduce your household waste. Between our recycling bin and our composting container, Taylor and I have put out only one bag of trash for the weekly collection, compared to two and even three bags a week.

Your composting bin will even encourage you to eat healthier. I don't know what it is, but there is something very rewarding about filling up our compost bin every week. To do that, I have to buy (and consume) more fresh fruits and veggies, which is ultimately better for my health and well-being anyway!

So you can see how positive of an impact one little composting bin can have on your wallet, your world, and your waistline. I encourage you to give it a shot!

Friday, July 2, 2010

You're hired!

After my Debbie Downer post on how impossible it is for young adults to find a job these days, some pretty ironic things happened. I was called for a couple of interviews. I answered questions, handed over a long list of references, and smiled pretty. And guess what? I was offered a couple of jobs.

And guess what else? I turned them down.

Yes, after all of my complaining about not being able to find a job, I was offered two positions at two different places, which I eventually passed up. One was in a social services agency where I would have been implementing a new system for senior meal distribution. It was an awesome work environment with a great team of people, but it just wasn't meant to be. There wasn't much scheduling flexibility, and the only shift that would have worked with my grad school schedule would have been 4 a.m.-12:30 p.m. With some of my classes starting as early as 3:30 p.m. and going as late as 9:40 p.m., I just couldn't figure out when I would sleep, do homework, or see my husband. Unfortunately, I had to turn down the position, but I hope they will keep me in mind when it's time for my social work field experience.

The second offer was for a toddler teacher position at a Cincinnati daycare facility. I saw the posting on Craigslist during my "apply for anything and everything" phase, so of course I applied for it, despite having no formal childcare experience. I was pretty surprised to get an interview, and even more surprised to be offered a part-time position pending a second "working interview" to see how I would interact with the kids. But something didn't feel right about it. The daycare facility was owned and operated by a property management company, and I could tell that was the business that took priority. My interviewers weren't particularly warm, either, and even talked down to me at times, though I was probably three or four years their senior. It just wasn't right and I had to say no thank you.

You may be thinking, "But Kaitlyn, if you turn down every position that comes your way, then you can't complain about not having a job."

You are right. But I'm not out of options quite yet. Today I interviewed for a job through University of Cincinnati at a local non-profit agency. I would only be eligible to work about 10 hours a week at $8/hour through the federal work study grant, but it would give me continued social services experience while I attend graduate school. My interviewer even mentioned a possible full-time job opportunity that he would also like to consider me for, and said he would give me an update later next week.

Also next week, I am scheduled to attend an interview for a totally different work study position at a totally different agency north of Cincinnati. It would probably also be "quarter-time" for the same wages, but if the first option does not pan out, it could be another opportunity for more social work experience. Either way, I know I will still need to keep up the job search, because neither work study position begins until the fall and neither would give me enough hours or sustainable pay to stand alone.

As I continue the search, though, I am more optimistic than even a week ago. My interview successes have boosted my self-esteem, and I am hopeful that eventually I will find a job that is a good fit for me and vice versa. It might not be my dream job, but it will meet my needs for now, and that will be enough. It is comforting to know that with Taylor's recent job change and salary boost, I can afford to trust my intuition and be a little pickier when browsing the classifieds.

That being said, Taylor, I won't hold out for too much longer, I promise!