Different Perspectives: Community Action Week Wrap-Up


I’m always amazed at how new experiences provide different perspectives. Last week we had our rescheduled Community Action Week and it was a blast!


From crocheting plarn mats to a cooking competition with a twist, we had a lot of fun, but we learned a lot too; at least I did, and from the feedback received I would say others did as well.


There were a lot of memorable moments, but some of the highlights were the following:


COPE – Cost of Poverty Experience (aka poverty simulation)

I’ll admit it. I was a little skeptical we’d be able to pull this off. Don’t get me wrong, we had lots of volunteers who are familiar with the simulation, but I was new to this particular one, as was Hannah, who was helping set it up and make sure it went well. Yet, it was a success. I define success here as reading the evaluations and seeing how many folks indicated they better understood some of the challenges people living in poverty face.

I had the best role of all – time keeper and making sure things were going as “planned.”  I got to observe and, wow, did I see a lot! I saw folks who were frustrated with having to fill out yet more paperwork. I witnessed how folks were polite to one another at the beginning of the simulation, but by the end, there was nearly pushing, shoving, and irritation when someone was in another person’s way. Time was running out and things needed to get done!

After the simulation, one college student who participated shared that she always thought that if someone was out of work, “just go get a job.” (Many people fall into the “why don’t they just get a job?” mentality.)  During the simulation, her role was that of someone who was out of work, and she spent much of her time TRYING to get a job… and meeting transportation issues, jumping through hoops of paperwork, and so much more. She then understand that just getting a job isn’t always the easiest solution.

One participant, a dear lady who is in her later years of life shared that she has never experienced poverty. She’s had to live being mindful of her spending and “counting her pennies,” but never has faced the challenges of poverty. During the simulation, she found herself losing her children to social services, being taken to jail, and having to work extra hard for anything and everything she needed.

Another participant struggles from hearing loss and had a hard time following the instructions and what was happening. She shared that it gave her a better understanding of what folks with barriers might experience, whether it’s hearing loss, inability to read and/or write, language barriers, etc.


Poverty, Inc. screening and panel discussion

So this was an experience in and of itself. Have you seen Poverty, Inc? If not, I’d encourage you to watch it (it’s available on Netflix). Most of our panel did not agree with much of the documentary. I myself don’t agree with much of it, but I think it spurs great conversation and discussion. I also think it boils down to asking ourselves the difficult question: is what we’re doing helpful or harmful? I think we need to be brave enough to admit if it’s harmful and look for ways where we can turn those harmful things (even the best intentioned ones) into something really helpful. This could be a whole other blog… don’t get me started…!


Cutthroat Pantry

Oh my goodness! I couldn’t believe how FUN this event was! We had three contestants and their helpers prepare food that would be found in a “typical” food pantry. Earlier in the day, Hannah and I went shopping, literally walking down the aisles, trying to find bizarre or difficult foods. We had a list, some things we knew we wanted to get, but then we were creative with the rest. Some of our more exciting finds were rutabaga (canned), nearly overripe prickly pears, and wilted basil, all of which are random things that sometimes end up in a food pantry. The contestants were great – they prepared a main dish and a dessert from the random things we had (including pink peeps!). We also allowed them to purchase penalties for their competition… things that simulated poverty and made it more difficult to prepare the meal.

While this event was super fun, I really do believe that the point was clear: it’s not always easy or possible to prepare healthy, delicious meals from the food found at a pantry. Add into that the challenges faced with lack of time, stress, and daily struggles, and it’s even more difficult.

I don’t pretend to believe that these events really give an accurate look into the life of someone living in poverty. Let’s face it. We do these (sometimes fun) things and see some of the struggles, but then we go back to our cozy homes, ways of life, habits and patterns, and we don’t really experience the reality of poverty. I do believe; however, that it’s a good way to begin to shift mindsets. To take some of the assumptions and judgments we have and confront them by experiencing life differently, even if only for a moment or a few hours.


That old adage of walk a mile in someone else’s shoes is so true. Even those of us who have an understanding of the challenges others might face don’t really get it because we aren’t living it. But, the more we learn and try to open ourselves to understanding, the easier it is to meet someone where they are, to treat them as a valuable human being, to not look down on them, but to begin to build relationships with folks who might be a little different than we are.


It’s not always easy and sometimes it takes a lot of time, effort and energy. But it’s crucial. It’s what Jesus did! He didn’t hang out with those who were like him, he took time to talk with the outsiders, like the woman at the well, the tax collectors, those who were the “other.” We need to do that too. And if it takes some fun or innovative simulations and events to start moving us in that direction, then sign me up!


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We Can Talk About Poverty All We Want: Next Week We Act


Next week is our Community Action Week here at Hinton Center. Let me rephrase that: it’s our rescheduled Community Action Week. We had originally planned the week in November, in conjunction with Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. But then the wildfires happened, so we postponed and decided to have a Spring Community Action Week, or CAW, which is much easier to type.


I’m pumped, stoked, excited, thrilled… whatever word you want to use there. We have some pretty neat things planned, all circling around the concept of poverty awareness. Some are more educational, and some are pretty outside-the-box events.


Monday we’re having a crochet plarn event. Yes, plarn. Have you heard of this?  Google it and you’ll be amazed at what you can do with plarn, plastic yarn. We’re making mats for the homeless out of the plarn, but you can make bags and all sorts of things. All from repurposed plastic grocery bags that are cut and rolled into plarn and crocheted. Voila!


Tuesday we have two different sessions of a poverty simulation. This will be my first experience with this particular simulation, but I know from the one I did before, they can be powerful. While we don’t pretend that this really gives complete insight into the life of someone living in poverty, it’s a pretty good walk to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” The goal is that we leave changed – having a better understanding of what some of our neighbors experience on a daily basis.


I remember the poverty simulation I did and how amazing it was. Picture this: a bunch of ministry-minded folks taking a class on being in ministry with the poor. Most of us were already working with folks in poverty and actually have some knowledge on the subject. I ended up randomly getting assigned into the wealthy group… there were three parts of town: upper class, middle and poverty. I thought, “Oh, I’m onto this. I’m not going to get sucked in…”  Yeah. Right. Within 10 minutes, I was sucked into the simulation and living it up. It sucked all of us in so much so that we were feeling pretty good about ourselves giving a little bit of our leftover funds to the people in the poverty section of town. No voices of advocacy for our neighbors. No standing up for injustices we were witnessing. Just throwing some extra cash their way. (Not that donating to causes for combating poverty is a bad thing by any means). It was just that we were experienced in working with people in poverty… and look how we were behaving. It was a hang-my-head sort of moment… but a memorable one for sure.


Wednesday evening we’re showing the film “Poverty, Inc” and hosting a panel discussion afterwards. I’m looking forward to some real conversation around the issues at hand.


Thursday we’re wrapping it up with “Cutthroat Pantry” – kind of a mix between Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen and Chopped. This is probably our most outside-the-box event. It’s going to be fun but also going to be informative and hopefully memorable. If you’re in the area – you might want to check it out!


We’re already planning our next November CAW… once again in conjunction with Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. We just didn’t want to wait until then to reschedule from last year.


Why are we doing this? It’s been my experience that we can talk all we want about issues with poverty in our communities… but until we can really relate, it doesn’t always make an impact. It’s one thing to talk about something, but it’s a completely different thing to begin to see it from another perspective. Yes, some of the things we’re doing are fun (funny?), but we aren’t making fun of the issues. We’re trying to make them memorable so that we can begin to better understand and relate to those who might live a little differently than us. Sometimes a fresh perspective is so needed.


Your prayers for our CAW events are appreciated and we hope to have lots to share from the experiences we have next week. Stay tuned!!!



What’s Your Word?


What’s Your Word?

Have you ever been talking with someone and they share this neat idea and you think, “why didn’t I think of that?!” I had one of those moments last week. While I like to be creative, there are times when someone reveals something and I’m just amazed. It might be a neat crafty decoration, a cool gift idea, or an innovative thought. This was the latter.

I was having lunch with a colleague and she shared that she gives up a word for Lent. Yes, you read that correctly, a word. At first, I had to wrap my mind around the concept of what it means to give up a word, but as she continued, it made such good sense to me that I have been mulling it over since. You see, she finds a word that she wants to give up so that she can work on something in her life. For instance, her word for this coming lent is “busy.” She shared that it’s her “go to” word when someone asks how she’s doing. (Gulp, I’m guilty of that.) So she’s going to be intentional not to focus on being “busy” or sharing that she’s “busy,” or even lamenting in her mind of just how “busy” she is, because, as I can relate, she shared that sometimes she really isn’t as “busy” as she thinks she is. (Insert another gulp here, I’m guilty of this as well.)

While I’m all for borrowing her idea of giving up a word for Lent, I can’t exactly go and copy her exact word, although it’s grand! Put it in the category of oh.so.good. or #suchagoodone. Don’t you agree?!

So I’ve been thinking about what my word will be, because I plan to use this idea. It’s too good to pass up!

In fact, read this words from Ephesians 4:29 – Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

While I wouldn’t say the talk coming out of my mouth or the words in my mind are evil per se, the point here is clear: words should be used for building up others, giving grace, not tearing people down. Quite the countercultural statement, don’t you think? I’m not knocking social media, but it’s the perfect example of the type of outlet that provides a place for sharing words to many, many people. Those words can be positive (thank you to those who share uplifting comments) or have quite the opposite effect. There’s something about the culture of being behind a screen, typing on a keyboard that seems to remove the filter, if you will, of what we say. Or so it would seem.

It isn’t just social media, though; it seems to be a trend in our culture. If someone is unhappy about something it’s so easy for him/her to spew negativities. It doesn’t appear as easy, on the other hand, to be encouraging and uplifting.

Our words have power. In some of the trainings I do about poverty, I talk about how language influences how we are perceived, which then in turn influences our relationship with others. Research shows that in children ages 1 – 4 the “economic group” a child is in determines the number of words he/she is exposed to, and how many affirmations/prohibitions that child receives. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which simply being that folks living in poverty tend to be living in the tyranny of the moment. Simply put: their lives can be chaotic and stressful. So, having a long conversation with a two-year-old just may not come as easily as it would to someone who might have a little more wiggle room with their time. Think about it this way: if a child is standing on the couch, looking at the window, someone who is overwhelmed might just yell, “Get down now!” Whereas, someone who isn’t as overwhelmed might ask, “What are you looking at?” (a bird) “What does the bird look like?” “What is the bird doing,” and so on.

I don’t have children, so I don’t dare even begin to judge or think I know a lot about this subject. I also know parents get overwhelmed and stressed, regardless of their financial situation. Life happens. Stuff happens. It’s not an overall assessment of economic groups, just a general, overarching trend. Yet, it gets me thinking of how powerful the things we say really are. I recently heard that for every one negative spoken to a child, it takes 10 positives to “undo.” Is it just me or is this fact staggering?!

For every one negative spoken to a child it takes TEN positives? This isn’t referring to correcting wrong behavior, it’s talking about the way things are said. For instance, if a child does something wrong, is it explained why it’s wrong and discussed, or is it simply stated “you’re stupid, you’re worthless, you’re ______.”

Those negative labels and comments stick, especially in children, and it may not even be apparent until that child gets older. Words have power.

Which leads me back to my thought about what word I’m going to give up for Lent. How about you? Is there a word that you need to purge in order to have more joy, more peace, make more time for God, or whatever the case may be? Maybe it’s not even a word that you speak often, but one that you think. Maybe it’s a word that was spoken to you in your formidable years, and you didn’t have the 10 positives to undo that one word.

I guess the question of the day is: What is your word?


love heart

All You Need Is Love, and Some Other Stuff


If you’ve been following this rambling of mine, er, uh, blog, for anytime now, you might realize that I relate a lot of thoughts to songs. If you know me, you would probably find this very humorous, considering I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, or truly, can’t even find the bucket! I might not be able to sing, but I love music. It sticks with me. I have quite the eclectic taste, and my husband always laughs at me for the variety of songs that I know.


Since I’ve been hearing a lot about Valentine’s Day and seeing all the cutesy, lovey-dovey stuff in the stores, the chorus “all you need is love… all you need is love, love… love is all you need…” keeps replaying in my mind (complete with the da-da-da-da-das).


When I look at the world we’re in, I wonder if love really is all we need, and I’m torn. You see, at its perfection, love probably IS all we need, because it would erase all the evil, injustice, hate and misgivings of this world. With love as the underlying force, none of these things would take place.


Enter the human condition though, and that topples this notion that love makes everything okay, because we can never live that type of perfect love, the agape love we read about in scripture. We’re human, we’re broken, and we can never achieve that highest form of perfect love in this life. We may have moments, but we just aren’t there in this life. I would even imagine that we can think of people who model a life full of love, who really do seem to “get it” and radiate the love of Christ. There are those who come pretty close to that perfect agape love, but they aren’t the majority. It leads me to think there has to be more to it.


Yes, we really do need love – to love God and love others, but I would argue that the kind of love we find here on earth isn’t enough. It’s a great motivator and it draws us out to do wonderful things. It can cause us to speak up for injustice, to fight evil and hatred, to work for solutions against the misgivings and wrongs. Love calls us out beyond ourselves, pulling at our heart strings and making it difficult to ignore things that aren’t right. Love is powerful enough to change attitudes, to make a difference.


All we need is love? Love to spur us forward in the right direction.


My prayer is that we can live out the love of Jesus as we show that love to the world and meet people where they are.  Would you keep in mind and say a prayer for folks who are struggling, who need love, who need things such as:


Peace of mind – for the questions that go unanswered, for those with doubts, insecurities, for things that weigh them down.


Basic human necessities – for those who search for shelter, food, and clothing, for those who find themselves in inadequate dwellings or housing cost burdened, for those who are refugees.


Safety – for those who live in fear, whether they’re in war torn lands or facing domestic violence or other unsafe situations.


Encouragement – for those who feel they’re never enough, those who feel they don’t have anything to offer or don’t feel support from those around them.


Authentic relationships – for those who feel isolated and lonely, those who are older and have no one to rely on, those who are have differences that set them apart and make them be identified as the “other.”


Release – for those who fight the chains of addiction, and their loved ones who fight the battles with them.


Hope – for those who need to see a little more of Jesus in this world.


Maybe love is really all we need, but since we just can’t seem to live out the agape love to conquer all the negativities of this world in the here and now, perhaps we can let love guide us to pray for and take action steps to overcome the wrongs that we know exist.



draw the line

Let’s Stop Drawing a Line that Shouldn’t Exist


I wonder if anyone else feels like this year is flying by…? I mean, flying by as in hold-on-tight-it’s-moving-very-quickly, as if I’m hanging on for dear life on one of those playground spinning wheels that’s rapidly flying around. Maybe it’s because I’m in a ministry where summer is our crazy, busy time. Or maybe it’s because I’m (gulp) getting older. Whatever the reason, I almost want to yell: “MAKE IT STOP!”


Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for summer, and I’m enjoying the preparations and I know it’s going to be fantastic. Here at Hinton Center the ministry staff is having conversations about scheduling, forms, packets, summer staff, daily devotions, logistics, and other topics. We know that groups who are planning to come to Hinton are busy preparing for their mission experience as well. We have all this “stuff” we’re working on, and it is rapidly approaching, but I don’t want to get too focused on the tasks that I miss the ministry.


You see, it’s more than just having folks come here to build a handicap accessible ramp, or fix someone’s unsafe porch. It’s more than chopping firewood so we’re ready for the next round of cold weather. It’s more than planting or harvesting in the garden to have fresh, healthy food on-site and to share with our neighbors.


Yes, it’s all those things – but it’s so much more.


It’s about relationships.


It’s about seeing youth and adults step out of their comfort zones to work in the heat and humidity so someone can have a home that’s warmer, safer, and drier.


It’s about seeing youth and adults connect with God in a whole new way. It’s about seeing those “God moments” during the day – maybe it’s out at the worksite, or maybe it’s while on a walk to the lake.


It’s about taking the time to talk with homeowners, to hear their story, to see them as real people who not only are receiving something, but who have something to give back. Learning about their hopes and their dreams.


It’s about getting to know people who might be a little different than us; widening our social circle to include others who don’t think, look and/or act like we do.


It’s about seeing a little piece of the kingdom of God here on earth today.


It’s been my experience that it’s easy to judge others or lump them into some category when I don’t know anyone who I’ve thrown into that category. Some time ago, I started seeing how that line gets pushed back the more I get to know others who are different than me. You know the line… the one we draw that says, “this person is (label) because he/she did (insert action here).” My line was questioned when we started having inmates come to work around our mission facility in Ohio.


To give you a little background, I grew up a little sheltered… I was an only child (now don’t go labeling me for that… we aren’t all spoiled, I promise) who grew up in a small, rural community where we didn’t have a lot of diversity. Add to that marrying someone who worked in law enforcement, and my picture of inmates was one where the line was drawn and it wasn’t going to budge.


Until I started talking with these guys who were different than me, but who started to become real to me. No longer were they “those inmates” – they were people who had names, I knew their faces.  My line started to shift; to be pushed farther away.


There were times when I and some of the volunteers would have the opportunity to have lunch with the inmates who were working there. Talk about another way to have that line shift: breaking bread with someone will do that.


What I found was that these were guys who had messed up; some pretty seriously, but they were people with regrets and hopes. I started questioning that line that I would draw. At what point did I start labeling people into groups and not really know them? What did that mean for my own faith journey? If I see people in a certain light, what does that mean about how I see God? Did I believe that God cared about (whatever group) less than God cared about me?


I wish I could say that I was able to remove the line completely, but I think it’s a work in progress. It’s something that I can identify and I work to overcome those judgments and those assumptions and just grouping people together in some category without even taking the time to get to know them.


As summer is quickly coming, I want to be mindful of the transformation that can take place during a mission week, both for the homeowners and the participants. A mission week can certainly be a “come and do this volunteer work and go home unchanged” experience, but my goal, my prayer, is that it is not. My prayer is that those who come here to help our neighbors will go home seeing how “the line” has been challenged. My prayer is that they will go home asking themselves those difficult questions that I found myself debating when my line was pushed back.


My prayer is that we can all experience a little piece of the kingdom of God in the here and now – and that it changes our hearts and our minds so that we can be a little more like Jesus. So that we can be the hands, feet and smile of Christ to others, but that we can see the face of Christ in them as well.