As part of their annual workplace giving campaign, WestStar Bank employees recently toured United Way- funded programs that serve our community’s basic needs. After seeing firsthand the impact that donor dollars truly make at these shelters, one employee felt compelled to share her personal account of the tour.
Most of us live pretty secure lives – at least we think we do. But suppose someday the unthinkable happened, and we or someone we love found ourselves without resources and had no place to turn. That’s where the Transitional Living Center, the Teen Runaway Center and the Child Crisis come into play. These facilities are all partially funded by donations that we make annually to United Way.
We all know that crisis shelters exist but seeing with our own eyes makes it real. I can’t say the tour was fun. It wasn’t. Was it beneficial? Absolutely.
Transitional means in-between – transitioning from one place to another. The transitional facilities we toured are all above going from a place of crisis brought on by violence, substance abuse, emotional or mental crisis, bad choices or bad luck to a place of making it better.
These facilities do not offer long-term sanctuary. They are a conduit through which people in crisis can travel on their way into longer-term recovery programs or back into society. Yet in those small time spans, huge changes can be made.
The TLC is utilized primarily by women and children, and can house a family or individual up to two years. There were 272 residents, including parents and children, the day we visited. Those who seek shelter here are not just given a place to hide, though they are protected from detrimental outside forces. They have chores. They have responsibilities. They get counseling and education and must work to get their lives in order and become productive members of society.
The Teen Runaway Center, an eight-bed facility, is poorly named, according to its director. He said it isn’t a lock-up for bad kids and it does much more than baby-sit juvenile delinquents. Kids who come or are referred to the Center are there voluntarily. They are protected, fed, clothed and given medical care for a few days until they decide to go back home or into other longer-term programs.
The Child Crisis Center is, of course, the place that will break your heart. It houses children new-born to 13 up to 90 days. These are the littlest, most vulnerable members of society who suffer the most with the least amount of choice. The warm, clean, orderly and inviting atmosphere we saw there can do miracles for little ones emerging from unspeakable horror.
The playroom was filled with toddlers, laughing, crying, and shouting. Out the group emerged this tiny little guy with huge dark eyes, a sweet gentle smile, and a cut on his forehead that was still healing. He took Jennifer by the hand and stayed with her through the entire tour of the Crisis center – not demanding attention or creating a fuss, just walking quietly along.
We learned at the end of the tour that this two-year-old had been in the news two weeks before after being beaten in the face like a punching bag by an adult man.
Sometimes the life results for those who come here don’t turn out right. Anthony said one factor that keeps him in the job at the teen center is the memory of the first young girl he worked with. She left the center and went back to an abusive boyfriend. He murdered her, put her in a closet and fled to Juarez. He said he wants to always be there so that troubled young people have an option.
One baby girl, a former resident at the Crisis Center, was placed in a foster home and subsequently murdered by a man who was supposed to protect and provide for her.
Sometimes things don’t turn out right, but often enough they do so that those who work at the Crisis centers are encouraged and they keep at it.
There is so much need in this world and each of us has our own circle that deserves the majority of our time and resources. But what if some day, one of my daughters is travelling with my grandchildren in a far away city and she has a car accident. Suppose the children are okay but she is hurt or killed and my grandchildren are out there alone and at the mercy of the system until I can get there. I would hope, by the grace of God, they would be given temporary shelter in such a place as we visited.
Individually, we cannot meet all the needs that are out there, but a few dollars each paycheck is seldom noticed. We could spend that much on a soda and bag of chips and only our waistlines will remember. Collectively, however, these donations add up and they do make a difference.
I like the simplicity with which our donations are deducted and I like the idea that, at the end of the year, I can see that I did a little. Not a lot, certainly not enough, but something.