Back To The Open Door Shelter

On the same Thursday, another important thing happened – I went back to ODS (Open Door Shelter) for the first time since February. To me, it is the most important volunteering activity I am doing, the one where nobody can replace me. I mean, the plants in the prairie won’t care who will be fighting invasives, and the clients of the Family Planning Clinic need to be able to get to their appointments safely, no matter who is standing there in a pink vest, helping them to get through the hoard of antis. 

It is different with The Night Ministry. It took me a long time to find a way to make a difference in the lives of the youth in challenging circumstances. But now I know that I can. It’s OK to miss a week of working in the forest preserve. It’s different when you mi a week in the youth shelter. 

This time, it was more than six months, the months when life was more challenging than ever. When our volunteer coordinator reached out to me, he acknowledged that “morale is low,” and I knew very well what it meant. I asked whether there is any youth in the shelter at the moment, who knows me, and he said – all are new. I was prepared for the worst, and as a part of this preparation, I decided to cook baked salmon with mashed potatoes:).

At 5 PM, I left the office and walked to the Blue Line station – I didn’t take CTA since February. I got out on Division and looked around like I did four years ago, getting confused for a moment in which direction I should go. 

I passed the Polish Cathedral and rang a familiar doorbell. And answered the buzzer: That’s Henrietta! – Who? – Henrietta! 

And then it all felt unbelievingly normal: a counselor coming to greet me at the door, explaining to somebody: That’s Ms. Henrietta, she came to cook with us. In the kitchen, I saw a pizza which looked straight from the oven, and I thought: oh, well, familiar story, and who is going to make dinner with me! But even before I started unpacking, I saw the movement and heard: Ms. Henrietta! You probably don’t remember me, I am… – Maribella! – Yes! 

Not only she, everybody else was so surprisingly alert and ready for a conversation, and so-so-so alive. Girls are always more suspicious than boys, but this time, girls would come up to me and talk. 

I announced that dinner is ready. Often, I need to call several times, but this time, Maybel was already wiping the table, and everybody lined up with the plates. I served the food, and nobody went to the corner with their plate; everybody headed to the table and made a social distance. And they were waiting for me to sit. I was so not expecting it on the first day that I didn’t even realize it right away. It took me nine months the first time around. That is when I came as a volunteer for the first time and had these naive ideas that my love and understanding is enough. Now that I think about it, maybe they are enough. Maybe back then, I simply didn’t have enough love and understanding.

So we sat and talked. We talked about going to the Art Institute as a group, and about the possible Architectural tour, and everybody thanked me for a meal – multiple times. 

Our volunteer coordinator, who joined us for dinner, told me that he knew that I would be the first to come back and that he didn’t doubt.

I don’t know what else to say. These two and a half hours were built of dozens of precious moments. Like when one of the girls turned to me after she tasted salmon and said: it’s so good! And I said: thank you! I am so glad you like it! And then another girl said about me: looks how happy she is! 

I made a promise to myself that I am only doing one volunteering a week until we are done with the book, but I will be coming to ODS every other week. Because we need each other

All You Need To Know About Kenosha

I have no idea whether the rest of the world know about the current events in Kenosha, but if you know, this post is for you.

Igor went to Kenosha five days after the shooting of Jacob Blake, on one of the few days when trains from Chicago were stopping at Kenosha.

As usual, he came back with a million photos. I am posting just a couple here, but please. spend ten minutes looking at all of them here, this is all you need to know about what’s going on in Kenosha.

Continue reading “All You Need To Know About Kenosha”

Capital in the Twenty-First Century Moview

I do not remember how that movie ended up in my watch list. After I started to watch Siskel From Your Sofa movies, all the third parties started to send me their newsletters, so it should have come from one of those. I was intrigued by it’s description and was looking forward to watching it.

Maybe, I had too high expectations, but the movies left me with a question: so what? Everybody should pay taxes? Richer people should pay higher taxes? Yes, I know, I agree, so what now?

Not like I didn’t like the movie, I liked it, but still…

If anybody is interested in watching, here is a list of current and future virtual screenings: Capital Movie

I Have to Share That:)

Somebody on our local nextdoor.com forum wanted to have some fun, I guess, or just test the neighborhood, and posted a survey: Should schools in America teach Arabic numerals as part of the curriculum? answers: Yes! No! No opinion.

I know it is hard to believe (especially since our school district, both Elementary and HS, are known for providing excellent education), but … at the time I checked, about 20% responded “No!” some with the comments “we are in America”, and 9% had “no opinion”.

And they were not joking!!!(It was clear from the subsequent comments). The post is already removed, so I do not know the final count 🙂

“Plastic Wars”

One of the many things which are not normal these days is the fact that we can’t come to the stores with our reusable bags. “Until further notice,” as most of the stores as saying. 

I washed all my reusable shopping bags and all my reusable mesh grocery bags and folded them on one of the shelves in the laundry room. I hope I will be able to use them again at some point. But each time I am placing a pile of plastic bags into the garbage, my heart wrenches. 

Last week, I finally watched the documentary Plastic Wars, which was on my list for a while. It is horrifying to see all the damage that plastic does for the environment. It’s devastating to learn that even when you think you are recycling, you are often not. That makes you to disgust plastic packaging even more. And yet – that’s what we have to do these days…

I still highly recommend the movie – watch it here

About Politics

First, I hope that all the recent tragic events will help the people of the United States to understand that Universal Health Care is the only solution to our health care crisis. Nothing partial will work. Any other system will lead to a situation when either a doctor will need to play God and decide who is worth living, or to the situation which we have now when people are not left to die on the streets. Still, society as a whole pays for the care for non-insured, and it pays more than it would if Universal Health Care would be officially on place. 

I hope this will indeed happen. I recall that my republican friends would suddenly become proponents of Universal Health care the moment they lose their jobs. Now I hope that the twenty-two million newly unemployed people will finally realize that “keeping their insurance” does not work as well as they wished.  

Second, I find it ironic how Trump had to revert to the UBI at the time of crisis, and how for several weeks, some tried to explain that it is not a PBI :). 

Third, I am mad that the payroll credits for small businesses were rolled out so late after millions of people were laid off already. Probably the most important part of COVID stimulus, it was open for applications way too late, and it ran out of money way too soon… We are promised that more money will be distributed soon, but for now – twenty-two million. 

The rest of my complaints are minor 🙂

Financial Relief

I want to write about these things not because they made a big difference for me, but because they are good things.

I have two gym memberships – one at Anytime Fitness, which is five minutes’ walk from my house, and the other at LifeStart, which is in our office building. I rarely use the latter one, but I found it’s a good idea to have it just in case. Naturally, both gyms are closed since mid-March. I didn’t expect any of them to stop charging membership fees, but they both stopped. In fact, LifeStart charged the April fees on April 1, but then they sent an email to the members saying that since they had to close all facilities, they will apply the April fees to May (and I am guessing, that if Illinois doesn’t open in May, they will transfer these fees to June or whatever).

And at the same time, they are streaming a lot of live classes for free! I believe they have six classes a day, and also nutrition seminars, and stress-relief techniques, and lots of other activities, and personalized workouts – you name it! I was delighted to see a yoga class held by my “second-favorite” instructor. I had him at LifeStart when I worked at Enova and was very sad that I lost him :). And now, since these online classes are available to all the LifeStart members, regardless of the specific location, I can attend his classes three times a week!

Back to the good things. My parking permit at the Palatine train station is automatically renewed every month. The other day, I saw an email with the words “Parking permit” in the header, which usually indicates that the fee for next month was charged. But when I opened that email, it read: we realize that most likely, you didn’t use the parking facilities in April, so we are applying your April fees for May.

And the last surprise came from the Federal Student Loans. I still pay the last of my Parent Plus loans (and Vlad is paying it back to me). I knew that the temporal suspension of the Student Loans repayment was a part of the relief package, but I thought that everybody would need to apply. Once again, to my surprise, I received an email that my scheduled payments won’t be auto-debited till the end of September. For me, it does not make a material difference to my budget, but I was happy for Igor and Vlad, that they both have that relief. And it’s great that no applications are required – it’s the Student Loans forbearance for everybody. I feel good that at least some thing are handled in a sensible way.

Happy and Healthy Unions

I started to write this post yesterday, but when I reached out to Grandfather Google for the exact link, the first thing I saw was Pete Buttigieg announcing that he is dropping out of the race. He was my choice, and with Illinois primaries being so close, I felt incredibly upset and could not bring myself to write this post. 

This morning, I decided it is still worth writing. 

I saw this article published in Tribune last week, and though it was related to Pete Buttigieg, I had similar observations for a long time. Because of Vlad, I had multiple chances to observe not only his relationships but also many other same-sex couples. And I could not agree more with what this article is stating. When people try to tell me something about gender roles in families, and what is “more natural” for a specific gender, I always ask: and what about same-sex couples? I’ve observed it so many times – the fluid roles when it all depends on how busy each of the partners is, who is more stressed or who is sick, who is better in doing particular things. 

Gay and lesbian couples, Coontz found, tend to approach conflicts with more humor and affection, spend less time criticizing and lecturing each other and offer each other more praise and encouragement, compared with their heterosexual counterparts.

“As a marriage historian,” Coontz told me, “it seems to me we’re totally entering uncharted territory. Never before in history have we tried to do marriage in a way that is totally free from dictation by our biology — whether we can or can’t have babies; whether we have to have babies — or by legal assignments that only husbands can do this and only wives can do that. It’s the first time we’ve really tried to build marriages that were not laid out for us by law and hundreds of years of customs.”

Mary Altaffer

I believe that what is emerging now is how our future unions will look like. Indeed, happy and healthy unions.

“An American Summer”, and What This Book Means to Me

An American Summer is one of the more recent books by Alex Kotlowitz, and to be honest, I am not sure whether it makes sense to anybody who did not read any of his books before, or didn’t see any of his documentaries. 

I first learned about Kotlowitz when the Interruptors documentary was released. At that time, I was already quite involved in homeless charities, and I knew quite a bit about Chicago schools and existing issues. It just happened that I got tickets for Igor and myself to “Chicago Live!” where the first episode was the meeting with the “Interrupters” team. After the show, we talked to Alex Kotlowitz, the film director Steve James, and with amazing Ameena Matthews. And then we went to see the screening of the movie in the Siskel center, and there was more conversation there. In shots, for me, there is a history behind that book.

This book is just a collection of episodes. No plot. No conclusions. No judgment. But still, it shows, very painfully, how difficult it is to get out of poverty and violence. And how easy it is to fall back. Story after story, different people, the same scenario.

Continue reading ““An American Summer”, and What This Book Means to Me”

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:)