Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

They said it could snow?

It was cold and dreary today, with possibility of sleet and snow, though so far, that has not materialized.  I had to go to the pharmacy, and the wind was blowing like the proverbial "bat out of hell" as my dad used to say.  I went out to feed the birds and the cats and was happy to see Oscar and Felix curled up together inside the little house I put on the front porch for them.  It is underneath the bench, and has a small opening, with a sheepskin pad in it.  Since it is foam filled, I think it must be keeping them pretty warm, at least for now.  I am trying to figure out what to do when it gets colder since they will not let me get close enough to touch them.  Oscar has taken to getting within a couple of feet of me as I go out with the feed, and walks along side of me meowing.  I don't think he is actually afraid of me any more, but he still won't come to me.
Years ago, I picked up this rock from my Grandma's house in Young County, Texas.  I always thought it looked like a face, and kept it outside my kitchen window back in Abilene.  I could look out while washing dishes and it would remind me of her, and her rock collecting.  Just a couple of days ago as I was sitting outside watching the birds eat, I was thinking of Grandma.  She grew up really poor and always had to just "make do" with whatever was available.  During the Depression, many the nights that supper was biscuits and gravy.  If something needed patching, she just found whatever she could to patch it.

I was thinking about that because I had just "patched" Libby's kennel where I discovered she had been digging along the fence.  Libby was always the digger, and she has left plenty of holes in the back yard from years past.  Since she had to be separated from the other dogs and has her own yard, she had not been digging...until recently.  I looked out one day last week to see a big hole next to the fence.  I put a few of Grandma's big rocks in it, and that kept her from digging for a couple of days, but then she just moved down to a new spot.  I had placed 3 long pieces of petrified wood that I brought from Grandma's place on the outside of the kennel fence, and then used the metal legs off my yard flamingo to act as stakes so she could not push past them.  After I finished, I propped the rest of the flamingo on the rocks and suddenly realized how much of my grandma is in me.  There was an immediate need, and I did not have the needed supplies, so just tried to figure out how to "make do" with what I could find at the moment.  Once it's "fixed" there doesn't seem to be any reason to go figure out another way to do it at the moment, and it gets to be something else that I will get around to one of these days...or at least, that is what I tell myself at the time.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Engagement: Success!

Equifinality in action:  Individuals start from different points, and achieve the same outcome.  I am not saying anything the group did not already know and has not discussed in their meetings, but this group struggled through the Power and Control stage throughout the project.  There were conflicts, and false starts, and hurt feelings, and disagreements, and confusion, and I suspect some anger and fear at times.  I imagine there were times when they all wanted to quit, as there were certainly times when I felt frustrated with my inability to reach them.

Today, however, I worked with them on the final processing of the termination stage, when they have to identify their achievements and successes, as well as future obstacles and how to address the things they learned about themselves in the process.  We conclude with giving a "gift" of something that builds on a strength, but addresses a need.  It is a time to acknowledge each other, and hopefully, be able to see past our differences to what we have been able to achieve through a group that we cannot on our own.

The group's intervention was this afternoon, and it was the first time we were entering that particular community.  I valued that this group took the initiative to do something new and innovative and were willing to take the risk it involved.  One group prior to this a couple of years ago tried to do an intervention in the community, and "no one came."  Of course, the reality was that the other group did not set it up well in the beginning, nor follow through.  In this group, we talked about the risk of failure, but also what to do to ensure success.

We arrived this afternoon to discover that our flyers had not been posted and most likely, no one knew about our activity.  The students started walking throughout the neighborhood talking to any parents and children they could find.  I was unloading the car when the school bus stopped and kids started to pour out the door.  I told as many as I could to check in at home and then come back.  Pretty soon, between the students out in the community explaining what we were doing and the kids on the bus, we had a roomful--19 children, and two parents.  I thought that was incredible effort on their part.

Then the second part where they demonstrated their flexibility was when all the kids were much younger than they had anticipated as the target group, and their planned intervention was no longer appropriate.  They adapted it to fit the younger age group, and improvised some wonderful activities to engage the children, peak their interest in future programs, address peer pressure and bullying, and encourage staying in school and achieving their dreams.

I was pleased to see them come together and work together as a group to accomplish the group goal, and there was no hint of any of the troubles that the group has experienced evident in their interactions with each other or the children.  It was truly as it the group this afternoon became the "it" where the group was more important than the individual members.  I love seeing that happen in a group, and not only was it important for the intervention, I hope it was important for the students.

As I saw it, the primary objective here was to engage the children and community for our future work there in the spring, and they accomplished that.  The parents were happy that we would be returning, saying "we need this."  The children were excited and already asking about what we will be doing, and when we will be back.  I left there feeling happy and rejuvenated, and confident.  Empower Rangers: Mission Accomplished.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hotty Toddy at Riverside

We were back in Riverside again this afternoon, on a cold and rainy day.  We only had a few kids when it was time to start, so Janice gave whole new meaning to "engaging the community."  By the time she finished making the rounds of all the apartments, we have a roomful of children.  Another great day, with more kids than yesterday!    This group has been such a strong group, and has really demonstrated the concept of mutual aid, strong social work values, and the importance of planning and keeping everyone involved. 

Students get ready for the skit.

Patrinia in her "disguise" for the skit.
These are some wild boots!

This group did an intervention on bullying and the children were involved and having fun.  They have enjoyed having us back in the community, and the kids were sad we would not be there the following day, but excited when I told them a group would come the week after Thanksgiving.  Once again, it makes me think that what we do there is important and makes a difference.  A friend recently shared a saying with me from Mother Teresa about "we cannot do great things; only small things with great love."  That sums up how I feel about our work in this community.  It may not be a "great thing" that changes the socioeconomic conditions or life opportunities they face, but it is definitely done with great love.  Small things, if there are enough of them, can add up to be a great thing in my opinion.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Riverside: First Group of Fall 2010

It's my favorite time of the semester again: the groups do their interventions in Riverside.  Girl Power kicked off the week yesterday.
Although we started with a small group, by the end of the afternoon we had about 25 kids working with us, and 3 moms.

Quite a few children brought in their homework and asked for assistance.  Tutoring was actually the initial reason we went into the community back in 2006.  Even now, when I drive up, the kids ask "is it tutoring?"  Sunday afternoon as I hung the flyers to announce our visit yesterday, one little boy across the street yelled out "It's the tutoring lady!"  We finished up with Bingo, snacks, and prizes of pencils before the children headed home as it began to get dark.

The group did a great job, and I believe it is important for the students as well as the community.  Our consistency has been one of the important contributions for the community.  One mother whom I have known since we first began stopped on her way out and we hugged in the street, glad to see each other again.  She has been a staunch supporter of our presence and I have watched her daughters grow up to be fine young women.

As always, it is rewarding to me to see the groups in action, watch as their planning comes together, and see how they are developing their skills as future social workers.  It is always interesting to see how a diverse group of students work out becoming a group, and though I never know how it will turn out, I do know it turns out--in spite of their differences, or perhaps at times, because of them.  I always learn things about the students as well, like sometimes how different they are in an activity like this from how they are in the classroom.  It is like I get to see who they really are, and who they will be as social workers when they are out of the classroom.

Good work, women!  You set the bar high for the rest of the interventions.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Jacksonville State University and the Alabama/Mississippi Social Work Educators Conference

View from the 12th floor of the JSU library.

Wednesday my two colleagues and I left for Jacksonville, Alabama for the 39th Annual Alabama/Mississippi Social Work Educators Conference.  Two more of our colleagues and two students were traveling over separately.  I had never been to Jacksonville before, and it was a beautiful drive.  We had an incredible meal at a local place called Effina's Tuscan Grill, named after the owner's Aunt Effie.  Our food was superb, our waitress joyful, and we splurged on tiramisu and white chocolate bread pudding after the incredible meal.
The meeting was held in the library, which was a beautiful building, and the student social work organization served as guides and presentation aides.  I said truthfully that this was the best AL/MS conference I have ever attended in the 7 years I have been here, and was the best organized in addition to best presentations.  I was rejuvenated in spirit, learned new skills for my work, and made some wonderful new professional connections for future work.

I did my presentation on "Promoting Basic Human Rights: Where is Progressive Social Work?" and had the joy of meeting 4 students from other universities who came up and talked with me later about radical social work.  The following session that I attended was conducted by one of those social work students, and not only was it skillfully done, I learned new things.  It was so inspiring to see this young (21 years old!) woman be able to know this much and be this skilled, but she did something my friend and fellow colleague Jane/Gigi always stressed: made it FUN!  I predict that I will hear her name in the future in the same leagues as Si Kahn, Jim Lawson, Lucius Walker, Martin Luther King, and it will not surprise me to see her in the political realm at some point--as a real change maker.

We invited the two students to join us for dinner and ended up at Effina's again.  Two items we had wanted the night before were not available as the truck had not come in, but was supposed to be in Thursday.  After checking that it had indeed come in, we opted to enjoy dinner again, and even got our wonderful waitress from the evening before.  Wild mushroom ravioli!  We tried to dissect it, as they begged me to try to recreate it.  (I love to cook, and invent, but told them I was pretty sure I would have to beg help from Chef Rich).  I had a simple Italian vegetable soup that was so amazing, served with polenta triangles.  Yes, again, we were dissecting them and I am already figuring out how to reproduce them, while simultaneously promising to make shrimp and cheese grits at our next get-together.

Today was Jill's session, which was in the beautiful penthouse room with the view that overlooked those mountains.  We were so impressed that not only was the room full of people we did not know, the students we met yesterday were there, and to talk with them further about graduate school, radical social work, and studying in South Africa and Belize.

It is well with my world.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Burns M.E Church/"Belfry" Restoration

The Burns M. E. Church was originally known as Sewell Chapel, built in 1869-70 on the current site.  It was Oxford's first African American church and was constructed on the edge of Freedmen's Town.  The one-story, three bay, brick masonry center aisle church building with Gothic Revival influence was constructed in 1910.  The church had been renamed Burns in 1900.  The congregation outgrew the original wood structure.
When the Burns congregation outgrew this building in 1978, they sold it to a local couple who used it for office buildings, and gave it the name "The Belfry."  Oxford novelist John Grisham used the building for a while, and donated it to the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation for use by the Oxford Development Association to promote cultural and historical African American events.

The bell tower.  The original bell was removed to the location of the new building.

The OLCHF received a grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to begin the restoration some nine years ago.  The building was stabilized, but little else has been accomplished since then.  The foundation and the Oxford Development Association have been fundraising to create the required match for the MDAH grant.

Recently, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded a $500,000 economic initiative grant for the project.  The Oxford Board of Aldermen voted October 19 to accept the funds and awarded a contract to local firm Howorth and Associates (who have done other historical renovations in the community).  Phase 2 of the project is supposed to be completed sometime in 2011.  This involves the restoration of the exterior of the building.  A photograph on the Howorth website indicates that the interior was totally gutted in phase one stabilization, and the roof replaced.

This location is near the downtown square, and considered prime developmental real estate.  That the church has not been demolished for the lot (as it apparently almost was twice) is testimony to a lot of work by a lot of people.  It says that sometimes, history and culture are more important than another condo in Oxford.