Whoa Mama

Monday, October 05, 2009

A Dollar Does Make a Difference

In March 2003, I left my full time job be a mom to this boy.

I never had any regrets. Especially when these two were added to the mix.

For five years, I ran a small home business as a part time job. In no uncertain terms, my full time job was otherwise occupied. In June 2008, the boys were 6 and 4 and 4, preparing for 1st grade and part time Montessori.

I had begun to shop my resume around. We were fortunate enough that I didn’t need to work and frankly had structured our lives and choices around being a single income family. I did not need to take the first thing that came along and in fact the year before had turned down a job that was right on paper, but wrong like Lindsey Lohan.

I applied for and got a position with a community agency with a myriad of services, most known for its soup kitchen and homeless services. I was the volunteer coordinator and development associate. That is to say, I was the right hand to the development director. As with any small business, there were general responsibilities, including wearer of many many hats. I was thrilled. I told Sammy I was going to work, he asked, “doing what?” For my little man of 6, I said, “I’m going to help people who don’t have enough food to get enough food.” Without missing a beat, he said, “That’s an important job, Mommy.”

With the boys in the capable hands of Miss Adrienne after school, I was on the job! August 2008 was hot like the seventh circle of hell in southern New England and the Executive Director of the agency that hired me came in like a screaming white lightning bolt, called “Diane! Leah! I need to see you in my office!” In we went, glistening, because, did I mention IT WAS SWELTERING!!! And our esteemed leader announced, “I was up all night. I don’t know how we’re going to keep the heat on this winter.” It was August. So-and-So leaned over to me at the meeting this morning,” she continued, “and said if everyone just gave a dollar we’d all be fine. I just don’t know what we’re going to do.” We rolled that around for a few minutes and agreed that if everyone did give a dollar we would all be fine. We set a meeting 2 weeks away and planned to bring in one of the influential board members to try to think of how to get everyone to give a dollar.

Now my momma didn’t raise no dummy. I can do this math. Two weeks into August is almost the end of August, then Labor Day and then school starts. Nothing until the middle of September. By the time we made this idea a plan, it is cold already.

I asked permission to “come prepared” to the meeting in two weeks. My development director gave me her blessing. Armed with a little bit of education, a working knowledge of powerpoint and inspiration, I dove in. With a little ditty Jack Johnson likes to call “Hope”, I crafted a 3 minute, self-running presentation, that pretty much said:

  • One Dollar
  • Once a Week
  • October 1 – March 1
  • 22 weeks. $22
  • Exclusively devoted to community heating assistance.

I had defined the parameters and method and drafted some “how to’s”. The middle part of the story is that it was well-received internally, refined and then taken to the streets, so to speak. We had the benefit of a fantabulous PR maven on our side, who insisted we have a launch event. She got this little thing picked up by NPR, a local TV station, both local papers and the not-so-local paper.

At the launch event, we had the state senator speak, followed by the fire chief, then a woman who shared a personal story and finally a representative from a local oil company. I was making some nice with the senator and fire chief, when this woman shared her story of moving with her three children from an oil-heated apartment to one with electric heat. Why? She could not afford the minimum 100 gallon delivery of oil that is the standard for oil companies. “I could have done 50 gallons or $100, but not 100 gallons”. Incidentally, oil was around $4.25 gallon that year. So this single mother with two jobs lived without hot water and heat just as long as she could, then moved. She was just one story. Not the elderly couple or veteran on a fixed income or unemployed parents of 2 who could just almost make it. Just get by. Just before that beastly heating bill. She was just the one who was brave and selfless and strong enough to publicly share her story.

The senator leaned over to me and said, “is that true?” I confirmed that I had spoken with the woman myself the day before and she shared that bit of her life in conversation. We in turn asked her to share that publicly because it was important that people shared their experiences. He leaned over to the fire chief and said, “we need to talk to Joe about that”.

The next day we got a call that we could go to the following three oil companies to arrange for a 50 gallon deliveries to people who needed it.

And off it went. This thing got legs! Then it got wings! We got change in envelopes. $22 checks. Single bills faithfully delivered in collection baskets, at our front desk, as direct withdrawals. As October 2008 turned into November 2008 and those who had, had less and those who had not, well, needed more, we were able to give support to a small community with a massive need. We were able to keep people in their homes, out of shelters and off the street. We were able to ask and receive just a little from many, when this community had already given what they had to give to this and other agencies.

In the end, one dollar at a time, this campaign raised over $20,000 IN A RECESSION exclusively devoted to heating assistance.

I am so very proud to have been part of this effort. Ironically, about half way through this campaign, my husband lost his job and we moved to Buffalo where we could lean on more family. I left this thing that was very dear to me, this job where I realized that I could again be a professional adult and my friends, Diane and Laura, who showed up to play every day, giving their intelligence, creativity, commitment and passion to make this a better world.

So as you sit warm this winter, remember that there are so many men, women and children who aren’t and that if you ever question what you can do, know that A DOLLAR MAKES A DIFFERENCE.


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