Tuesday, June 11, 2013
When to Give to the Homeless and When Not To? I Guess I'll Never Learn
By Diana L. Chapman
I was writing at the Starbucks on Fifth Street in San Pedro when a woman wandered in.
She walked boldly up to me, explaining that she and her son were hungry. Would I be willing to get them something, maybe a bit of food? In my mind I've conjured up the son as a little, 5-year-old boy and am ready to buy them anything they want.
For the most part, I've made it a rule not to give cash, but I will typically buy food and coffee for those living on the street.
The woman was nice and asked each time if she could order a frappe and then another one, and a sandwich, and then another one ("Is that ok?") and when the bill was nearly $11 and paid, I planted myself firmly back down at my table to keep writing figuring I did my good deed for the day. But then I remembered I'd left something in my car.
It was then that I got a full-in-the-face punch about the realities of life. Things are not always what they seem. And of course, that is the truth in this story.
As I went to the lot, I spotted the "homeless" (my word, not hers) woman sitting in the passenger seat of a brand new Cadillac Escalade with another woman driving and the young man, the son, in the back appearing to be about 20. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. And ouch again. I'm not complaining.
This was completely my fault. The woman never once told me she was homeless. I just assumed it. And come to think of it, she wasn't dressed that badly, either. My guilt and shame to help the homeless comes perhaps from the large number living in Los Angeles County even though the numbers are down. The destitute are often so hard to help.
There are about 51,340 homeless in Los Angeles County and nearly half of them live in the city of Los Angeles, according to the 2011 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count Report.
Even sadder: the statistics as to who is homeless. Thirty-three percent suffer from mental illness, 22 percent are physically disabled and 34 percent are substance abusers or have more than one of those troubles combined, the report states.
More disheartening: about 18 percent are veterans who are chronically homeless. Veterans, in my book, should never be homeless. They are the band of people who keep us free.
The astounding homeless report was done from Jan. 25-Jan. 27 2011 where 4,000 dedicated volunteers, under the guidance of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, fanned out and started counting. The project covered more than 4,000 square miles and counted each homeless person one by one.
What I am finding so disturbing are the fake homeless folks.
The trouble I was telling Mary Gimenez-Caulder, the former director of Harbor Interfaith Services that provides shelter to homeless, is there are so many con artists pretending to be destitute -- and the flip side of that are the many people who want to aid even in small ways, buying a cup of coffee, getting them some food.
That is why, Mary says, she passes out Harbor Interfaith information to the homeless where they can receive good care and be aligned with the many available resources in the community. A cup of coffee is fine or a bit of food, but that's not even a band aid, she explains. Providing funds directly to shelters such as Harbor Interfaith ensures the money will be used directly for those in need -- and not by con artists.
"When people ask me for money," she explained, "I'll say that I'm sorry and give them the name of Harbor Interfaith. We have to help them off the street. Otherwise, it's perpetual."
But because her heart and compassion are so wrapped (and have been for years) in helping the homeless, even she will buy food on the weekends, "when everything is closed."
But I remain troubled that people are faking poverty to get money from those who are generous.
How, I asked her, do you know between the con and the homeless? She replied "When you get in the field, you get a sixth sense."
The problem is: I don't have a sixth sense. At least, not yet.
For instance, I rolled out of a CVS drug store perched along Gaffey Street where dozens of cars streamed by on this unusually warm day. In fact, it seemed oppressive and clammy.
A man wandered up and asked: "Mam, could you please give me 50 cents for bus fare?"
A sucker is born every minute and I am one of them.
"Of course," I said, scrambling to open my wallet to find the coins. After all, this guy just needs a bus ride. That seemed hardly generous.
I dropped the coins in his hand and he blessed me. But I hardly was in my car when I saw the man go up to another shopper. "Please sir, do you have 50 cents so I can catch the bus?"
On another front, I had to learn how my compassion could hurt others. I was outside a San Pedro restaurant when a homeless guy asked for a cup of coffee. I raced in to purchase it and came out with the drink in hand. When I came back in, the owner asked me not to do it again. The homeless were killing his business, he said, blocking off the entryway to his diner and making his customers uncomfortable.
That thought never occurred to me, I am sad to say. I respected his request, but still kept on giving.
Clearly, what I'm learning is there are those without homes and then there are those who figured how to make money off those people's backs by pretending they are.
Sad. True and then there's perception.
With the family in the new Escalade, Mary pointed out, I didn't know exactly what happened. One time, her former organization found a Torrance mother with her three children living in a brand new Volvo.
"She was a single mother," and had lost her job in computer technology. The shelter helped them get back on their feet, Mary explained.
OK, so I got that. Still working on the word: discernment.
In the last few months, discernment was easy.
Coming out of a Starbucks in the pouring rain, a man sat at table with heavy coats on as streams of water rolled off him. His plastic bag wasn't making a bit of difference. He was soaked and chilled to the bone. It seemed like author Charles Dickens, the 19th century author famed for his works about the poor, would be calling out our names saying "Do something." The man said he just wanted a cup of coffee.
I handed him money to get some. If anyone had gone that far to fake they were homeless, they deserved it.
I also respected a woman and her daughter who also were impoverished, but not homeless. They wanted to wash my car windows. The windows had just been cleaned that day, so instead I gave them a couple of bucks. They were proud to be working. They also had two dogs to feed, the loves of their lives, a pit bull and a collie. They were spilling over with thank yous and gratitude so much o made my heart warm. They were so proud of their dogs, and they talked about them profusely. I think one was named "Beauty."
Giving those women a helping hand was worth it.
But in a Von's parking lot recently, a man approached for money because he didn't have enough food.
I said: "Really, because I don't know who is homeless and there are a lot of cons." He told me I had to learn how to cut off the cons.
"You shouldn't be so nice," he said. "That's what I do."
Right then, a lady drove up waving $2 from her car window. I left that guy in the dust. There was no question that he was working us. That's why he was so savvy at explaining just say "no."
Perhaps that sixth sense finally is taking root.
To donate to the homeless, look up an agency near you. To learn more about Harbor Interfaith go to www.harborinterfaith.org. It is the only South Bay area shelter specifically dealing with homeless families. It's located at 670 W. 9th Street, San Pedro, (310) 831-0603.
Friday, June 07, 2013
A Starbuck's Queen Visits San Pedro High School to Teach Kids How to Hook Jobs; She Receives Rave Reviews From Students and the School's College Counselor
By Diana L. Chapman
|Starbucks manager Becky Hardin at SP High|
How not to get a job at Starbucks or probably anywhere: One young man turned in an excellent application (Good.) Stopped in to visit the manager (Very good.) But came in to see the manager pouring in sweat and wearing gym gear (Bad.)
Very bad. That was one story Becky Hardin, a Starbuck's manager who represents the 25th Street and Western Avenue store, shared with juniors and seniors at San Pedro High last month to teach them job and interviewing skills -- and how to land work at the wildly successful coffee houses while going to college. That sweating young man did not land an interview, she said.
For one hour, Becky had nearly two dozen students mesmerized. No one whispered or talked out of turn. No one interrupted. The youths peered forward at the animated woman who was training them how to snatch a Starbuck's job while going to college -- or elsewhere. As students complained they could not get work because they lacked experience or had been turned down numerous times, Becky suggested looking at finding jobs in a different light.
"You should feel empowered to shop for your own job too," Becky explained and make sure you are a match. "Know you are valuable and you have a lot to offer. As you are being interviewed, you should be interviewing them too."
But that's not all the San Pedro Starbuck's manager told them. She offered up many concepts about interviewing techniques and added that they needed to include their community experiences in their resumes and applications "because that paints a picture of you. That is the stuff we want to see. Are you in clubs? Do you volunteer? Do you babysit? Those are life skills that will help you.
Don't sell yourself short."
Upfront, Becky told students while she "loved" her job and that the company has excellent benefits for its "partners," she added Starbucks comes with intensely hard work complete with many demanding challenges. That includes the memorization of 87,000 drink combinations, the ability to remain friendly in the often frantic paced stores and "to sell, sell, sell."
"We like to hire hungry, dedicated partners," she said, employees who will "take one for the team," when a bathroom has been "exploded on" and it becomes a cleanup project for several partners, including managers.
The manager encouraged students to study the way a company works and learn how employees dress. That, she said, is the biggest indicator how one should dress for a job interview. At Starbucks, "dress the part." Come wearing khaki pants and a nice shirt. Bring a resume. Ask to see the manager and if it's a bad time, ask when "is a good time is to come back."
Besides that, think what work matches your personality.
"If you hate dressing up and wearing ties, then don't work in a bank," she said.
For women, she warned, who have long, manicured nails, that's not possible to have at a Starbuck's job due to health code regulations.
The tips seemed to resonate with the youth and the school's college counselor.
"The workshop was fabulous," said Valerie Armstrong, the counselor. "Becky is such an engaging speaker, and the students learned how to present themselves in a positive way when applying for jobs. This is the type of real-world advice they need and they heard it from a very credible source."
Other suggestions the manager made was:
-- "Weed out" any sense of desperation and never take a job because of it. That only leaves both the employee and the manager unhappy.
--"Scope" out Starbucks or anywhere else you might be interested in working and see how the store operates. Each store has its own culture. At Becky's 25th Street and Western Avenue store, the culture is "loud." Her partners sing, laugh and tell jokes. But other stores can be more subdued. It is "crucial," to find a match.
--Look for jobs where the staff is treated well. "If you get a manager with any company who is just rude to you, do you really want to work for him?"
--Hundreds of email applications pour constantly in to Starbucks managers from people who are looking to become baristas, which is why it's so important to make a personal contact.
--Persistence, she added, "often opens the doors."
Students who attended the after school meeting said they were pleased with the speaker saying her presentation and enthusiasm for her work taught them how to master the maze of interviewing skills going way beyond just Starbucks.
"This was universal and will help with any job out there," said soon-to-be-a junior, 15-year-old Ernesto Hernandez. "I learned so much from this. She was a great speaker and the story she tells makes it more awesome. She really pushed out there that you have to be willing to work hard and be trustworthy."
College Bound Christopher Tate, 17, a junior, said after the workshop: "This was really worth it. It helped me a lot. I work really hard and I'm pretty good at learning. I also learned you have to be prepared because you might get an interview on the spot.
"I think it fits me."
In addition, students also said they were attracted by Starbuck's benefits. Some of those include:
--Hiring people, some without experience, where they will receive paid training at $8.35 an hour. The pays remains the same once starting, but will include weekly tips.
--Starbucks encourages and works with college students schedules and allows baristas to transfer to other locations if needed. In some cases, Starbucks will pay between $500 to $1,000 in college tuition fees and for some classes.
--Full health benefits (dental, medical and vision) with 24 hours or more.
--Partners receive free drinks while at work and 30 percent off all store merchandise, including food and beverages.
--Stocks are provided to many eligible partners to ensure that "partners" have a stake Starbuck's financial success.
If one gains the opportunity to become a Starbucks barista and go through the training, mistakes will be made, Becky added. The "training process is grinding," the manager said, and once completed, "we throw them to the wolves. It's baptism by fire." But she added, "you've been trained to deliver successful results."
Don't be afraid of making mistakes. "It happens."
When Becky first started working at a drive through, she had "12 cars stacked deep." On the counter, she had all the drinks ready to go but when she turned the drinks flew to the floor. It "wiped out every single drink."
"My manager said: "Clean it up." You will do stupid things like that. It takes about six months for you to feel solid," the manager explained.
Student Rodvidna "Robbin" Colquitt said she's been trying to get a job at Starbucks but didn't know how.
"This helped me because I've been trying to work for Starbucks," said student Rodvidna "Robbin" Colquitt, 16. "I am so glad I came."
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
|Let Up students meet on campus each Friday to go over what's ailing the school and how it can be fixed. It's leader, Tank, is on the left.|
|Perry Clark was shot to death when his sister, right, Shaniece was 4.|
An Innovative Program to Tone Down Racial Tensions After Off Campus Shootings of San Pedro High Students Seemed Doomed, But That Changed Because of One Man
By Diana L. Chapman
Even though it was doomed, and likely to die a quick death, it survived. It survived year after year and without it, San Pedro High Student Danielle "Ella" Johnson vows she might not have known what to do when she walked in the girl's bathroom at school and saw blood flowing out from a stall.
"Shocked" and "confused," she tried not to panic. The person in the stall was quiet. There was no noise, no motion. Just blood. Another girl came in, spotted the blood and fled. Ella, however, ran to find any adult, grabbing the school nurse.
Together they discovered a grisly mess; a girl had been mutilating herself with a razor. It was more painful when the stall door swung open and Ella discovered a new shock; it was one of her friends.
Paramedics were called, the girl was saved and Ella was called "a hero," a title she refuses to accept. She summoned her courage, she said, only because she was a member of Let Up, the name for a group of young leaders who come from all walks of life at the Harbor Area school. The group is charged with keeping the school "healthy," steering it away from racial tensions and other malevolent issues, such as drugs and bullying, that can rot and molder the underbelly of any school.
"I thought about my club, Leaders Empowering Teens United for Peace, or "Let Up" and how stepping in when others walk away helps me build an impactful message in my community," she wrote in an essay as to why she took action. "My involvement with this club has been about learning ways to tackle violence and bullying plus spreading that message in school and the surrounding community."
But for a time this program was threatened with extinction -- despite its success in bringing the school together after racial tensions exploded between African-American and Hispanics when student Perry Clark was shot and killed on Feb. 2 2000 and others were shot over the next decade, innocent victims of apparent gang-tensions off campus. One man, who goes only by the name Tank, salvaged the program -- despite his lack of academic credentials.
But it was a highly trained academic at the school, Windy Warren, who was a crises counselor at the campus, who formed Let Up, resulting directly from Perry's killing. She hoped it would halt simmering tensions and stop the fights; it did so with great success. In fact, the results were so astonishing, the program did not disband and would see the campus through more turbulent waters to come. But once Warren was promoted to assistant principal at Phineas Banning High School in Wilmington in 2006, her departure from the campus was imminent. Perry's mother feared the worst: the collapse of a leadership group of students who tamped down horrendous racial tensions after her son was shot five times.
"The kids were hostile. They fought before school. They fought after school. They fought at school. No one was safe at that point," Kandie explained. "They waged war. I wanted everything to calm down. I didn't want any other parents to go through what we went through."
Her son, Perry, 16 at the time, was an African-American student at the school who was out with two other friends playing basketball on Feb. 2, 2000. They were on their way home about 8:30 at night when Hispanic gang members began shooting at them in an alley near Santa Cruz and Center streets, his mother said. Perry began to run, but when his friend fell, he turned back to help him up. That move cost him his life. Perry was shot several times, including in the back and in the head. His two friends also were shot, but survived. None of them were affiliated to gangs.
Sadly, Perry was less than a block away from his home.
With Windy Warren leaving, Perry's mother -- her whole family in fact who continued to support Let Up through the years -- didn't want the program to end because they saw firsthand how it interceded to save other kids lives and tamped down on racial tensions. But there was, in fact, no academic to take on the role. Who could possibly take it over?
It seemed like out of the blue, a loan cowboy arrived at San Pedro High. He wasn't a principal, a teacher, or any kind of an administrator. He wasn't an educator of any kind. He had no academic qualifications. He is known to students and friends as "Mr. Tank" or simply Tank.
In fact, Tank was a hardworking man who sold auto parts for 30 years. When he left that industry, he volunteered to do surveillance for the Los Angeles Police Department across from the school. He also aided with the LAPD's boot camp for troubled teens even when he was the "hated disciplinarian." What made him the savior of Let Up was a blend of things: timing, his interest in helping students and a former senior lead officer turned Los Angeles Councilman suggesting he take it over.
To Perry's mother, Kandie Thomas Clark, having someone takeover was imperative -- even though she's moved away and lives now in Fresno.
She is grateful, she said, that Tank came forward. And so is Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who once was the Los Angeles police department's senior lead officer in the area at the time.
"I had an opportunity to meet Tank for the first time while he was volunteering with the LAPD, where he showed commitment and passion to serve our community," said Harbor Area councilman Joe Buscaino. "When there was a leadership opportunity in the Let Up program at San Pedro High, I knew (Tank) was the person to fill it. He works well with kids. He has a commitment and the drive to ensure kids are on the right track and it is no surprise that he is successful in his role.
"I am very happy that he chose to accept the responsibility."
Perry's mother called Tank "successful" as have others.
But for Tank, this was no easy job.
First, there was the issue of could he step into Warren's academically giant boots -- her skills steeped in long educational tradition and administration (she holds a doctorate in psychology) and in particular dealing with crises situations -- such as negotiating with retaliatory, on-the-edge gang members. Could Tank possibly keep the students on track when they gathered together as a team and as leaders to keep peace among the rest of the student populous when horrible things happened?
Could he stay in the saddle? His Let Up students say he has.
And he wasn't a complete stranger. When Tank met the former crises counselor, Windy Warren, at a safety collaborative meeting, she recruited him to come visit her Let Up students at San Pedro High. Warren worked off the premise that depending on a bunch of adults sweeping in was unlikely to settle heated, and emotional issues amongst teens. She believed it would take the kids to resolve problems and she didn't pick your average student leaders. Instead, in a racially mixed group, the former counselor turned principal picked anything from on-the-edge students to football players and mixed them together.
It wasn't your typical leaders at a high school -- and that made Tank, now 60, interested.
He went to meet the students.
"The first thing they told me was: 'You can listen to us, but you have to put your camera away," Tank told me over coffee at the Omelette and Waffle Shop before going to work at the school. "In six months, they made me an honorary member."
Later, students came to believe he was an integral part of Let Up even when he took a paid job on campus to supervise and discipline students on the yard. His personality, current Let Up students say, is rather like "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." On the yard, he was busting students for drugs, climbing fences, causing fights and scores of other bad choices students make on a daily basis.
But in Let Up, he was a John Wayne kind of Teddy Bear, doing what he believed was right and allowing the students on the team to become close, share their painful stories and grow. They knew that he cared and would help them through any difficulties that might arise. What he expected in return, students said, was for his members to look out after the school community. The program is "mostly about helping other people," said one of Let Up's leaders, Ernesto Hernandez, a 15-year-old sophomore, a clean-cut, square shouldered kid who seems genuine about his concern for other teens.
It's not always a popular choice, Ernesto explains, but it's so worth it if he can save one student or one friend from spiraling down into an abyss. He's worked hard to prevent a friend from doing drugs and allowing herself to get lost in the sometimes human misery of being a high school student facing a list of bad choices. It has been a hard path to pick, he agrees, "but I feel right" about it. What she decides, the jury is still out.
The members are often accused of being "snitches," but they said they had to draw the line of what's right and what's wrong -- and realized the value of the program had given them a sense of pride and made them stronger and more rounded.
"It builds character," said another leader, Timothy DeBoer, 15, who sports long hair and has a surfer look. "It's not like we are running to people to see if we can help them. But if we can, we help. It's telling people that there's always someone who has their back. There are people who you can share with and it's a safe haven."
Tank's largest endorsement that Let Up is working is the fact that school doesn't start until about 9 a.m. on Fridays. In order to continue his work due to schedule changes, he holds his Let Up meetings every Friday morning at 8 a.m. rather than during school hours. That means he has to drag a pack of teens out of bed who'd much rather been sleeping in.
But he does it. One Friday morning, about 25 students showed up. I stopped by for a visit and couldn't believe the camaraderie, the cooperation and the respect the students had for each other and for Tank and other staff who support the program.
The Let Up students are also proud they had a fundraiser to donate $110 to the Beacon House and $100 to Toberman Neighborhood Center, both non-profits dealing with the ailments of poverty and substance abuse.
"We look forward to donating a whole lot more next year," Ernesto said.
Possibly one reason for his success, Tank explained, is that he took the time to understand his Let Up students complex lives and understood that many faced tough issues.
"Some have been displaced or have discipline issues at home," Tank said. "Here, they talk to other kids. I tell them Let Up is the place to escape. I look at them to settle conflicts. If they know someone who is missing school to get involved."
It hasn't always been a blessed trail for Tank or his Let UP students.
In 2007 on Halloween, one of the school's most popular football and basketball players was shot to death at a party protecting his friends.
|Letarian "L.T." Tasby was shot to death.|
Laterian "L.T." Tasby, an African American, had recently moved to San Pedro and had turned his life around. He stayed away from gangs and became a star not only at the high school, but at the Boys and Girls Club on Cabrillo Avenue. He was widely admired and respected for his transformation and students looked up to him.
Friends said when Hispanic youths showed up at a Halloween party and provoked a brawl, Tasby, 17, "fought like a soldier" to protect his friends before he was fatally shot in the chest.
Laterian "was liked by everybody," Tank said. "When he got shot, everyone blamed everyone else. The Hispanics thought African Americans shot him." And vice versa.
His team immediately had to come up with a plan. For Tank, it was like "losing one of my own." His group was devastated -- but they pulled it together. They had to ease the brewing anger that seethed at the school over a senseless killing of a boy who meant so much to the community.
Let Up helped school administrators -- who were in a tangle of emotions themselves over L.T.'s death -- make L.T. T-shirts. Students were allowed to wander the campus and the team members went out and talked to kids.
The crime was never solved and still resonates at the school today.
While Tank may be a tough man out on the yard and disliked by his disciplinarian actions, students in his Let Up group say they trust him completely. For some of them, he's the only father figure they've ever had.
Ana Ahmad, 19, a freshman now at San Jose State University, still returns to Let Up when she comes home. She considers it her second family.
"I came to my first meeting and it was life changing," Ana said. "I saw how close the kids were so I just kept coming. It's a safe zone for everyone who comes into the group. I heard some crazy stories. Some kids had no family."
Every student I interviewed only could rave about Tank's abilities to keep them going, make them feel safe and empower them to help other students at school.
But had he impressed the originator of the program, Windy Warren? At Banning, Windy was able to start another Let Up program that also was successful. Initially, she had wanted to develop such teams across LAUSD, but all that turned into an impossibility when she became principal at Carson High School.
She was just too busy with triple the amount of work to start the program at Carson. As far as Tank goes, not only did he stay in the saddle, she said, he broadened the program at San Pedro High and "took ownership of it," she said during a brief phone call.
"I am so impressed he's doing Let Up. I can't even tell you. I'm thrilled about it. I'm really pleased and I'm honored," the Carson principal said.
As I left the program that day, I could only feel one thing, that every school needed Let Up to quell fights, reduce tensions, prevent bullying and provide a "therapy" for the school and the students in the program.
But it takes people like Tank to do it.
At times, Tank says, he can't believe it himself that he "took over a group run by a doctor of education." It's a different world now, because when Warren put the group together it was "to keep peace on the campus." As tensions have faded, the team pulls together to stop potential fights, aid students who need to get off drugs or aid in helping kids who are bullied.
Now, the group is more about making an effort to surge out on the campus and help students that need them. Like the girl in the bathroom, who could have died if Ella hadn't snatched up an adult.
"As a group, we try to do the right thing," Tank said.
Students say it's an honor to work with the parts salesman who made more than a major commitment to help them. On a recent day when Tank was leaving the campus to go home, a random student said: "Hey, Mr. Tank. Have a nice evening. Thanks for keeping us safe." After having had a trying day, that comment made Tank want to come back the next day and do it all over again.
And the one thing the Let Up kids know: he'll be riding back to the campus in the fall to help them all over again.