Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Lend a hand

Warning: Long, rambling post about social conscience. With no pictures.

Over the recent holiday break, I had a lot of time to think about things. I got really sick and didn't have time to do some of the things I'd planned, but my mind was working fine.

I thought about the fact that, even as we struggle as a nation to find our footing, still we squander so much of what we have. If times are so hard, why are we still spending millions on bottled water instead of drinking tap water or investing $20 in a filter pitcher? Why are we still watching frantically for the price of flat screens and Blue Ray to drop? Why is obesity such a huge problem even as the price of food skyrockets?

These are general issues.

In specific, I worry about my children. I don't think they have any real sense of social conscience. I completely admit that that's the fault of their parents. We've been lax and irresponsible.

I grew up - though not dirt poor by any stretch of the imagination - certainly without any extras. I remember when I first made the cheer leading squad and there was a distinct possibility that I wouldn't get to participate due to the cost of the uniform. My father was a factory worker, working nights my entire childhood because of the extra money that shift paid. There was forever a sense of being on the edge. As a result, I give my kids too much. I want them to have a sense of security that was a sometimes lacking in my own childhood. I've always wanted them never to feel that kind of pressure and I've probably done it in the wrong ways.

On the flip side, my husband grew up in comparative privilege. His father was an high level executive with a large, multi-national company. He grew up on the golf course. He had great clothes, nice cars, a swimming pool and came home from school to a gated community every day. Paying for college was never a concern. He gives our kids too much because, well, he had those things when he was a kid and maybe doesn't see the harm.

But I am starting to.

I recently read an article about a woman who wanted to teach her kids about being aware of how lucky they are just to have food, shelter, clothing. School supplies, for crying out loud! So once a week, she and her children make nutritious brown bag meals and then take them downtown where the homeless population is concentrated and hand them out to anyone who wants one. They don't do this as a project for school or to earn community service credit for college applications. They do it because it's benefits everyone involved.

This seemed like such a simple way to help that I thought, "Hey, why not us, too?"

Last year the homeless population in Orlando was estimated at approximately 10,000 people -2400 of them children. That number is expected to dramatically increase in the next year due to the collapse of the real estate boom in our area. Thousands have lost their jobs as a result of that incident alone. Not to mention all those who are affected by the dramatic downturn in the travel and hospitality industries that fuel our local economy. We're talking about entire families living in shelters because the parents lost their jobs.

That could be us.

If my husband were still the small, independent electrical contractor that he was a few years ago, we wouldn't have our home today. His business probably would have been wiped out along with thousands of others across the area. He ran into one of his biggest former clients the other day. Two years ago, the guy was building 4,000 square foot custom homes. Today, he's building skateboard ramps for the neighbor kids to earn a little cash. He hasn't built a house in six months.

That's scary.

I already volunteer at the kid's school as much as I can, but I really want something for the kids to participate in, something that puts them in touch with another side of life. So, I set out on a full-on volunteer effort for the entire family. We've decided that my daughter and I will volunteer at the Orlando Coalition for the Homeless. They have a Women's Shelter as well, where they always need help with the children and organizing activities. Connor does community service work for his Scout pack already, but he can help with donation drives and supplies sorting, too. They need so much, from time to supplies, that there's something for everyone. Robert already volunteers for local youth sports, and that's about all the time he has.

And, because we're all animal lovers, we'll be continuing to donate time and supplies to the local SPCA, which I have done for years. Next year, Anna will be old enough to volunteer on-site and she's really looking forward to that.

These are relatively small things but I hope they'll help all of us. It can't hurt, that's for sure. If anyone local is interested in helping, I've included the links for these organizations. If you're not local, maybe you could find someone in your own area that could use a helping hand.

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