January 9, 2009

Our Communities Need Volunteers This New Year

Community Service By Businesses,

This holiday season I volunteered at the Clara White Mission in Jacksonville, Florida to help in serving food to the homeless. Businesses represented also were volunteering their employee’s time: PHH (a mortgage company) and Blue Cross and Blue Shield an (insurance company). I did not know what to expect from the facilities, the people or their clients (homeless), but the businesses that volunteer set the tone for a wonderful holiday for those that were present. I was pleasantly surprised that the food that was prepared was of very good quality. The cooking staffs are very professional, helpful and knowledgeable in creating nutritious meals. They were learning the skills necessary to work in various food industry careers, from their experiences in the Culinary Arts Program at the Clara White Mission. Theirs is a sense of purpose, understanding that they serve a humane principle in feeding the homeless and providing services that contribute to the community that they life and work in. The clients (homeless) were treated with respect and dignity. They were not looked down on, judged nor mistreated in any way. That is the vestiges of a First Class organization; it reminded me of a valuable lesson that no matter what a person looks like or has gone through we should not nor need to judge them by their appearance. As the old saying goes, “never judge a book by its cover”. Business owners know the importance of professional dress, but what of those who are good workers, but lack the means to dress as “we see fit”, who are we to judge those that are going through tough times.
The Mission, "The Clara White Mission is to reduce homelessness through advocacy, housing, job training and employment by partnering with business and local community resources." The significance did not escape me to the fact that I was contributing my time to a cause that was ongoing for years here in Jacksonville, Florida. I learned about the history of the Clara White Mission that can be found at: http://www.clarawhitemission.org/ and through a tour of the facilities. Because of the dedication, passion and purpose of the workers they support the cause of helping those who need these services to survive. Without these services the homeless would be challenged more so to find food, shelter and community services. In 2003, 17,500 people experienced homelessness in Jacksonville, 86 percent more people than in 2000, these men and women may have been business owners themselves,
(http://www.endhomelessness.org/content/article/detail/2014). Because of our current economic volatility there are more homeless on our streets and in our shelters and homeless centers, the numbers are growing across this country. We can see the ravages of the economic struggles as businesses are going under each and every day.
Many of the homeless are located in downtown and at the beaches of our city. In our schools there are children and young adults who are homeless, and sit in our classrooms trying to better themselves through the educational system of our public schools. Regardless of their conditions they work to improve life for themselves and families through the educational opportunities that are available. That is why this challenge is the responsibility of all businesses small or large.
I cannot afford to judge anyone, nor look down on those who are homeless. I don’t know their struggles, challenges nor do I know their medical or financial circumstances. That is not my place to question, but as a business owner it is my responsibility and our responsibility as national community to help those who need help in living and surviving until they can provide for themselves. Even if it is volunteering time to feed those who do not have the resources to feed themselves, how close are we to joblessness and homelessness?
I do not know the stories of these men, women and in some cases children, but can visually witness the struggles that many face in this volatile economic and political change we are experiencing. I can only say for myself that I have a greater appreciation for my blessings in serving my church and working in an industry (education) that has a direct impact on the lives of children and adults.As I drive to work on some occasions I see some of these same individuals going about their day to day activities while I work to shape young lives the best that I can and in turn pray for the children that are faced with hunger, homelessness and other challenges that I cannot imagine. There are many of our leaders who are proponents to volunteering time in community service: John F. Kennedy, Jr., Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and now President-elect Barack Obama. Many of us including myself are just a pay check or pay checks away from financial chaos if struck with a medical or financial setback. There are no bail outs for us only hard work, cutting back on expenses, budgeting our earnings, and prayer, but the homeless have no where to go, we cannot wish them away, put them in situations of incarceration with over crowding jail cells or move them to other cities that are hurting also. The majority are the products of our own communities and may have been our neighbours or family members. There is no place for them to go except in many cases the streets. We as a community that can support Jaguars, Gators, Ospreys, Seminoles, Hokies, Bulldogs, Tigers and others in physical and emotional pursuits of entertainment should be able to support those that at one time or another may have sat beside us, ate with us, worshipped with us, taught us, serviced our cars and our physical ailments in hospitals now need our help.
Volunteer some time to help those who you pass by every day and may at one time themselves or someone like them helped you or had been a blessing to you before the ravages of life and situations contributed to their current lifestyle of unemployment and homelessness. How can we sit in our homes, condos, and apartments and eat, drink and claim to be appreciative without sharing our time with those who need just a small amount of time to feed them, talk to them and encourage them. Our titles, jobs, degrees, political and religious affiliations do not place us above anyone, when it comes down to it we are all close enough to financial ruin to see a possible heartfelt situation for ourselves and our families.
This new year season we should not only pray and give thanks for ourselves and families, but provide some time to help those who just need a hand, a hand to pass them a hot plate, a warm blanket, or a friendly handshake. We are all thankful for our blessings, but now we should also think how we can bless others because it only takes a few challenges in our lives and we may be facing homelessness or the loss of a vehicle, a job or more.

William Jackson, M.Ed.
"Copyright William Jackson, All Rights Reserved 2008"

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