A Letter from the Night Ministry CEO

As most of my friends know, I am a long-time friend and supporter of the Night Ministry – an organization that provides food, shelter, medical services, and emotional support for the homeless population of Chicagoland.

Below is the email I received as a Night Ministry supporter several days ago. I have nothing to add to it, except of now, since the president is going to deny a health coverage for millions of people … time for another post, but first – email.

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About Homeless, Internet, Cellphones, and What is a Necessity

When Igor told me about this event, I was surprised I didn’t know anything about this program, and if you think about it, it’s a great idea. And by “idea,” I do not mean the MediaLabs, I mean the discounted internet access. Igor’s article says:

The Internet Essentials program offers qualified customers to get 15 megabits per second of Internet use (an average Internet speed for most American households), for a little over $10 a month. The program also lets customers buy discounted desktop and laptops for around $150. Customers can also receive free classes on Internet literacy, basic skills, and useful tips for getting into college or applying for a GED.

Originally, Internet Essentials was only open to families of students who receive free or reduced lunches. It was subsequently expanded to families that either live in public housing developments or receive Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers, as well as college students eligible for Pell grants and low-income veterans.  

Now, Comcast opened eligibility to any resident who receive Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; Medicaid; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; Low Income Home Energy Assistance; Supplemental Security Income; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; and WIC. 

I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that internet access is no longer a luxury, or entertainment, or something you can save on. The internet has become a vital necessity, comparable with food and housing. And it’s great that organizations are starting to recognize that fact.

I often hear comments about homeless people with cellphones. For some reason, when people spot a cellphone in the hands of a homeless person on the street, they immediately think that this person is not really poor, but just pretending. But it is very far from being true.

In fact, many organizations work on collecting used cellphones to donate them to disadvantaged people, including the homeless. Those people, even more than others, need to be informed. Where hey can get assistance. What’s the weather is going to be. I lost count how many times I was trying to explain to somebody how they can find a Night Ministry bus. The stops vary by day, and not everybody is familiar with all the city neighborhoods. 

We often take these things for granted and saying, “it’s easy to look up!” while it is not really that easy. At least not for everybody.

And while I am on the subject of homelessness, I also wanted to paste here an article, which appeared in Chicago Tribune about three weeks ago. I copied its text because the ability to access the Chicago Tribune content is limited, especially outside the US. And the reason I wanted to paste this text here is, that this is one of the subjects of which the general population is so often unaware. 

Same as those folks who commute to work by train every day do not know, that there is a Family Planning clinic just two blocks from the train station, and antis are going wild there. Same as many people do not understand why a student can’t buy a registration for a professional conference to be reimbursed later. Same way as twenty years ago, people would say they never met a homosexual person in their lives. 

The same way people often do not understand how close to them is the homelessness. Here comes the article. 

Continue reading “About Homeless, Internet, Cellphones, and What is a Necessity”

Making a Difference

It happened so that in August, I was able to come to ODS to cook dinner for three weeks in a row. And it opened me a completely new experience. When I first started coming to ODS, I was told that I could be flexible and come there when I have time. That was one of the reasons I chose this program -I thought I would be able to fit my activities in whenever. I can write volumes about how I started to come to the ODS (Open Door Shelter) and how I was slowly winning the trust of the residents, about all the ups and downs.

As for the flexibility, I was never required from me to come with a specific frequency or on certain days of the week. But then I started to hear the “old” residents telling the new ones “she is coming every week.” And when we were trying to film “a cooking show” a boy posing as a show host would say to the camera: Our friend Ms. Henrietta is coming every week. I also hated it when I was not able to tell the youth when I am coming next time. I knew that some of them would be gone by my next time, and a half of the others will forget what I said, but I hated this moment when they would go: oh, whenever you have time! We appreciate you coming …

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My New Volunteering

This Saturday, I’ve attended the training for my new volunteering activity. I know that it sounds completely unreasonable and ridiculous. I am continually complaining, that I do not have enough time for anything, including my existing volunteering activities, and yet I’ve just signed for a new one.

However, this one is really important for me, and when I first heard about it I knew right away, I need to be a part of it.

I’ve been a part of the Illinois Clinic Escort Team for five years. The clinic escorts are people who come to stand in front of the abortion clinics and help patients to pass the “antis.” Antis are protestors, who are either trying to stop women from getting an abortion or curse them (and escorts for that matter) or trying to be intimidating in other ways.

Before I go further, let me tell you something. In my previous blog, I had several different levels of security so that different groups of readers could see different posts. There was a good reason for that, but when I’ve started a new blog, I resolved that all my posts will be public, that I will write the truth and only truth. If I am not comfortable making some information public, I do not need to blog about it.

Thereby, I am not going to hide the fact that I am pro-choice and actively volunteering for this cause.

Now I’ve signed for the new activity: I’ve joined Midwest Access Coalition, The mission statement says:

As a practical abortion fund, MAC helps people traveling to, from, and within the Midwest access a safe, legal abortion with support in the following areas: travel coordination and costs, lodging, food, medicine, and emotional support.

After some more formalities are completed, I will become a host for individuals, who are traveling to Illinois to obtain a safe and legal abortion. I am not sure yet, whether I will be doing it besides or instead of escorting, but I am going to do this because this is something much needed.

Is Using Public Spaces A Privilege?

Yesterday, I read a comment on Instagram about the homeless people gathering in the Main Branch of the Chicago Public Library. The past several weeks had been extremely hot. During the most scorching days, I would walk out of the office with a big water bottle and a stack of paper cups, so that if I saw somebody on the street, I would be able to give them a drink of water before urging to go inside.

Thankfully, I barely saw anybody – people were smart to find refuge in multiple public spaces, and I am so glad they did. Fortunately, public libraries in the big cities have always been dubbed as day shelters, both in extreme cold and extreme heat. And after seeing a movie Cooked , I could not be more thankful for that.

I am struggling to write anything else on the subject. I can’t wrap my head around this cruel comment about homeless people “contaminating” the beautiful building. Why do some people think that if they are “more presentable”, or pay more taxes, they are “more valuable” for society and thus are entitled to access public spaces more than others? When I commented that I am glad that people are in the library, not outside, I’ve got a reply that there are shelters. This statement sounded for me no better than segregation, when some people “deserve” to be at certain places, while others don’t.

Later the same day I was at the Open Door Shelter of the Night Ministry, where I volunteer regularly cooking with the youth. And after the meal was washed away (everybody loved my baked salmon), we had a great conversation. There were some young people whom I met previously, and also one more young man with whom I never talked before. I was so impressed by his intelligence and the dignity he carried himself. It just happened that we got into discussing racial profiling and stereotypes. I do not start this type of conversation by myself when I am in the ODS, but funny enough he said something to which I’ve reacted – this is a generalization! He laughed, and we continued talking.

As an immigrant, I did have my share of prejudgements towards me, and I learned half – not to pay attention, half – to accept it as a fact of life. And I have tremendous respect for people who do not become upset or bitter when they are faced with prejudgement and maintain the sense of their worth and self-respect.

I was walking back to the CTA station with the sense that this day was worth living:)

A Workday In The Forest Preserve

Yesterday I was collecting seeds with the Friends of Deer Grove volunteers; that’s one of the happiest things you can do in the forest preserve. And there we’ve witnessed a little miracle: a butterfly just got out of her cocoon and getting ready to start her life.

Did you know that the butterflies can’t fly when they just got out? I didn’t know that! But it turned out that they need to get their wings dry and to pump their lungs to get ready for the first flight. So here she is, working her beautiful wings.

We thought it’s a Monarch, but when I’ve posted this video on Instagram, another volunteer has commented that this is a Viceroy butterfly! Maybe I will memorize them all eventually 🙂

A bonus picture 🙂

A Beautiful Day In The Forest Preserve

I weed scout life hack: if you are planning to epilate your legs, do it before you scout it the forest preserve! If you forget about it, you will have to wait for three days for all your scratches to get healed. But then you would not want to show your wounds to anybody anyways!

I didn’t make this mistake on Sunday, and enjoyed scouting my area – I think it’s the most beautiful prairie area in the whole forest preserve. Since it has been quite rainy lately, there are more wet spots than usual, and I’ve ended up with my feet wet in the first twenty minutes of the walk. But look at the pictures – isn’t it worth getting a little wet?

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The Importance Of Human Connections

On Tuesday, I was attending the Night Ministry Lighting Up The Night event. That was the first time I was invited; it is a big fundraiser, with a fancy dinner and both silent and live auctions, in which I did not participate. It was interesting to see people I got to know through different volunteering events at a very different kind of event, in fancy clothes :).

Geoffrey Baer from WTTW was an emcee for this event, and in the very beginning, he talked about human connections. That’s what the Night Ministry is about: not just providing food and medical care, but also providing companionship and an opportunity to connect with others.

At the start of the event, we were asked to take a piece of paper which was put on the right side of each plate and to write down a name of a person, with whom we talk most often, with whom we can discuss things, which are essential for us. And then to fold this piece of paper and put it away. Later through the course of the event, there were more stories of people who managed to get their lives back on track, and all of them were talking not just about The Night Ministry, but about particular people, who helped them along the way.

Other speakers were citing the numbers from different surveys and researches, which indicate that being lonely might be very dangerous to your health, cause heart diseases, high blood pressure, and other conditions.

And a little bit later Geoffrey Baer retook the podium and said: “And now look at this name you’ve written on a piece of paper earlier, and think how would you feel without this person in your life. And think about the fact that many homeless people would have no name to write on this piece of paper.”

I was thinking about this. And I was also thinking, that this is precisely the thing I am doing with my blogging, and also that with most of my volunteering activities I am doing just this – giving people support at the time they need it most. Talking to the youth in the shelter. Escorting patients to an abortion clinic. Blogging about difficult parenting situations. Even with my political activism, I value canvassing the most, because I know that nothing can influence people more than a real-live conversation. Eye-to-eye. Heart-to-heart.

When they asked all volunteers to stand up, I was so proud to be standing there are receiving the audience ovation. And when they were mentioning “volunteers, who come and cook with the youth,” my neighbor was pushing my elbow: this is about you! And I’ve smiled back: yes!

I was in Madison WI this weekend, celebrating my granddaughter’s second birthday, and when we were slowly walking around the Capitol Square, my granddaughter almost ran into a group of homeless people seating on the edge of a flowerbed. They have admired little Nadia and asked whether Anna is her mother, and then all of us got engaged in a conversation. A little bit later, when we were on our way back after dropping off my mother in the hotel, we ran into one of these guys again.

Anna said: look, Nadia, it’s the same person we talked to before. And he said: yes, my name is Robert! And Anna chatted with him for a little bit more, while he was following us, and amidst all “nice talking to you,” he started crying and changed his trajectory. For him, this human connection, the fact that we were talking to him like to an equal person meant a world more than a box of leftover mac & cheese Anna has handed him at the beginning of the conversation.

And I have nothing else to add.