It has been forever since I’ve been here. Life has taken all kinds of twists and turns and I forgot all about documenting them here. Folks have asked me recently to do some posting. I was going to just start a new blog cuz in some ways it feels like a new life… but the adventures in hospitality are new every day and it still is part of this crazy, fun, beautiful, painful, scary, joyful, magic dance so here I am again.
Gonna just start by pasting in some email updates from the warming center. See if posting those gets me back into the spirit…
I haven’t written anything here in so long. I was working a ton of hours (still am I guess). And then there was the election.
A friend who frequently stays with us and identifies as a member of one of the groups Trump has targeted woke up the morning after the election and said with simply honesty, “I’m afraid to leave the house.” The stories came rolling in; a woman walking down the street threatened with being burned if she didn’t remove her hijab, racist graffiti spray painted on the walls of the university… on and on. And my own personal experience just a night after the election:
Driving home From work I stopped to get gas. There was a man, i’m guessing early 60’s pumping gas. He appeared to be Arab / Arab-American. I pulled in just as two young (early to mid 20’s) white man approached him. They begin to verbally assault him — yelling that he was not welcome here, and that Trump will send him back to where he came from. They mumbled something incomprehensible that I believe included the word terrorism. I pulled up close, got out of my car and went and stood beside him. At first I said nothing. I just stood next to him facing the 2 young men. My presence seemed to confuse them and as they hesitated I asked (hopefully not unkindly and hopefully without Snark) ” why are you doing this ? ” One looked down and they both started to walk away. As they did one turned and spat at the man standing beside me. I stepped I front of him getting spat on instead. As I was not the intended target the spitter looked uncomfortable for a moment. Then the 2 young men left. I spoke just briefly with the man who was targeted with such hatred. He is from Jordan and has lived in Ypsilanti 8 years. His children were born here. He was so grateful. I had done so little yet for him I guess it meant a lot.
I came home and cried, took a hot bath and shared the story on facebook. I shared as a venting tool and to say “we have work to do.” The story was shared and shared and shared.
The Meta Peace Team, that I am so deeply involved in, and just myself personally started getting calls,emails, texts and facebook messages requesting bystander intervention training. Faith communities, community groups, neighborhood groups, girl scouts, home school networks. It has been amazing! And with every training I learn something.
Meanwhile, the day time warming center has started for season. A democratically self governed space where those experiencing homelessness can be warm, get a bite to eat and enjoy community. And where those newly and precariously housed can stay connected to the community and stay involved. Hosted by faith communities we rotate to a new spot ever 2 weeks to one month. Anything we have is donated; food, games, hats and mittens. The lines between “guests” and “volunteers” is always blurred and at best erased as we remember the truth that “we are all in this together.”
Each year that I have had the privilege to coordinate this I am moved by the generosity shown, and the connections made, and relationships formed. A person who always brings juice because she knows from the relationships formed how much this is loved. The individual who hands me her bridge card (food stamp card) and says “I get $40 a month, use $20 to buy groceries for the warming center.” The guy who takes off his gloves and hands them to another because his hands are so cold, chapped and red.
I find myself thinking of another election. When Obama was elected President the first time I was in line to vote. I was living in Ypsilanti and those in my precinct were predominately African American and almost exclusively poor. The line was long. Really long. Hours of waiting long. The atmosphere was positive and people made small talk as they passed the time. A woman toward the end of the line worried out loud that she was going to get in trouble at work, as voting was obviously going to take longer than her lunch hour allowed. And then something wonderful happened — folks in line let her “cut” in front of them.
Then something even more wonderful happened. Almost spontaneously people in line begin to organize themselves in sections of about 20 people each. “Who needs to get back to work?” , “Who has kids who they have to pick up or get off the bus?” We all, without any formal leaders or plans, organized ourselves to ensure those with time constraints or needs to finish quickly were shuffled ahead in the line so that those needs were met. Those who needed to sit were offered seats, snacks begin to be shared. The atmosphere went from positive to festive as people chatted, laughed and shared stories.
I said something about it to the woman in line in front of me, contrasting it to my experiences at my former precinct in Ann Arbor, where people had always been very nice, but so much more reserved, and where I couldn’t imagine the spontaneous show of community that allowed some people to skip ahead in line. She responded in an southern accent so thick it made me wonder if I’d been somehow magically transported south “honey, we poor people — we know how to take care of each other!”
Returning to this election I think of her words as another friend asks me “What are we going to do?” and I answer “challenge injustice when we see it and build alternatives, the same thing we’ve been doing, take care of one another.”. I think of her words as I hear my friend say “I’m afraid to leave the house.”
“We are poor people. We know how to take care of each other.”
I hope she is right. I believe she is.
(1) The conference was amazing! Thanks to every one of you who helped me get there! I probably shouldn’t have spent the cell phone payment to go, and still need to finish paying for it all, but it was soooo worth it. I learned so much! Met amazing people. Heard such heartbreaking stories. I will write more soon, at least a full post. For now here is my summary:
I guess even with all the facts, figures and data thrown at me, as a survivor of sexual violence myself, my “bottom line” remains the same: sex offender registries and the laws that surround them are problematic because they likely lower rates of reporting of sexual assault, cause those who have offended to be more reluctant to take guilty pleas because the stakes are so high, waste resources since they don’t work, mislead the public about where the real danger lies, and divert resources from victim services.
Further as a feminist and human rights activist I have no desire to punish people for punishments sake. What we need is for amends to be made whenever possible and for behavior to change. Punishment is not justice. We need transformative and restorative justice that lead us away from retribution and throwing people away.
(2) The support group for people working the sex work industry is going really well. This too I will write more about later. My goal (“putting myself out of a job”) so that those involved take over the facilitation, seed other groups etc. is going well and our next meeting will be my last with the group. I’m really inspired by this group of people. I’ve been blessed to learn from them, share my knowledge and skills with them, and grow together. What a gift to become part of one another’s stories. A big thanks to those of you sent in donations to make this happen. Thanks to you I was able to pay about 50% of what it cost me to make this happen. This made it doable. I am most grateful.
(3) Yes, I will be facilitating the day time warming center again this year! It’s a work in progress and we are looking for a March host. I’m not sure if I will be there part time or full time,but I will be there. And more importantly, it will be happening. I’ll also post more about that as the time approaches (December through March) and those of you who partnered with us in the past should watch your inboxes for more info.
(4) Needs.. thank you all who have asked how you can help!! Beyond any monetary donations directed for specific work (support groups, conference, purchasing sleeping bags….)
We always need:
- Dawn dish soap (I’m not usually a brand name person, but I really find this is brand I like )
- Toilet Paper (we go through a ton here, plus it is something I am often asked for by homeless and marginally housed people alike )
- Canned cat food (Clyde, the “I think i’m a dog” cat, provides pet therapy to us and our guests. For medical reasons he can’t have dry food and he eats a lot.
- Dishwasher soap
- Unscented Laundry Soap
- Hand Sanitizer
- Natural cleaning products (citrasolve, sal suds, and eco breeze fabric refresher are a few of our favorites )
- trash bags
- Bus tokens (our house is close to DHHS, Packard Health Clinic, and the Engagment Center, not far from the Salvation Army. Folks regularly stop by having gotten to their appointments but having no bus fare home. )
- Gas cards (same reason as bus tokens, plus we drive lots of folks to court,hospitals/doc appointments, food pantries, and other places our limited public transportation doesn’t go)
- Grocery gift cards (both to feed people here and to stock a food pantry for people to take with them
- Coffee (“no coffee, no peace” )
- socks for donation
- prayer support
- humor and humility
We often Need:
- Tents and Tarps
- Sleeping bags and blankets
- Back packs and other sturdy bags
- White Vinegar (for cleaning and cooking!)
- Clothing for donation shelf (specifically larger size sweatshirts and hoodies, pants that are “common sizes”or “one size fits most” , t-shirts in decent shape )
- first aid items
- Juice, “kool-aid” type drinks, sports drinks, soda and similar in single serve containers
- $5-$10 Coffee shop / restaurant gift cards (especially once the warming center starts!) useful for conflict resolution (“I’m not kicking you out, it just seems like you need some space, here have a cup of coffee on us and we’ll see you later.) They are a nice thank you to those who volunteer above and beyond and with all of us working outside the home we are here less and the purchase of a drink at a coffee shop or restaurant gives guests and inside place to be when they can’t be here.
- Cat liter
Random things we currently (but don’t usually ) need :
- A good broom (somehow we’ve broken 3 dollar stores brooms – maybe it’s time for a sturdier one)
- Mop (to go with the broom of course)
- Someone(s) to eat tomatoes, peppers, rhubarb, and basil (our garden went nuts)
- A more artistic “Black Lives Matter” banner. – In a moment of frustrated anger I scrawled “Black Lives Matter” with black spray paint on a white piece of fabric. No planning, no spacing, barely legible….I just needed to yell it. We hung it on the porch. Neighbors who waved without making eye contact started to stop by,someone took a photo to share with friends telling me “they need to know someone in Ypsi cares”. The banner will stay. But it’s getting tattered and it was never very well done. I want something more noticeable. Something that will last.
- Someone to harvest some of our cat nip (even Clyde, stoner cat that he is, can’t keep up.If your kitty wants some let me know!)
Of course any items we get will be shared with Mercy House and Hill House based on needs and availability!
To make a contribution to Ibdaa House, if you want to support the ongoing work shared in this blog, to pay me for my writing or the unpaid life coaching, consulting, training, taxi service and other work with those marginally or precariously housed and those experiencing homelessness you can do so here: paypal.me/playfullspirit or send a check to Sheri Wander, 782 Mildred Ypsilanti, MI 48198. (You can designate it for a support group or to purchase items noted above or whatever YOU want with a note in the memo line, or a short email. ) As always, every dime is appreciated, but never expected. No obligation dear readers, just an invitation. And, of course, prayer support, positive energy, love, light and general good mojo and good woo is alway gratefully accepted! Contact me if you want to donate in-kind items such as those above and we’ll work out a drop off or pick up! email@example.com
“Write something soon”, “You haven’t posted in a while”, “Tell us more about ____” — I hear these comments and I’m amazed… someone is actually reading. I’m honored and humbled and grateful…someone actually wants to hear more. How is this possible?
I want to write more. I need to write. These is so much. And, then there is the rest of life keeping me away from that hot date with my lap top that I crave.
I started a new job about 2 weeks ago. I am the women’s locker room attendant and cleaning person for a local fitness club. Put simply it is kicking my ass. It is not just the work, which is physical and can be exhausting. (And comes with an allergic reaction to the scented laundry soap that has triggered an asthma flare up sending me to the ER and prompting nightly breathing treatments).
It is also the sense of injustice that comes with low wage work in a large corporate environment. Stupid little things; being scheduled for 7- 71/2 hour shifts so that they don’t have to pay us to take a lunch break. Needing to purchase shoes and pay for a CPR/1st aid training that I won’t get reimbursed for. I want to scream… I get paid $9.00/ hour, that is almost 30 hours of work I have to put in just to work here. At part time that is a week of my work. A week of free work. But I don’t scream it, or even say it (except here or privately to friends) because I need the job. I need the job if I want to keep Ibdaa house, and the things that go along with it. So, as I’ve been told “Suck it up buttercup, that is called being an adult.”
More than any thing, however, it is the attitude. We are invisible… unless we screw up. As long as we do our job well, we don’t count.
Such a place of privilege I come from that these things are rarity to me. It is a learning and good for me. I know it is the world most of our guests live in. And it’s important, for me,I believe to feel that and not just know it on an intellectual level. We do this work as a way to build the world we want. We act “as if” that other world were here already and in doing so we give birth to it. But sometimes, when “building the new in the shell of the old”, something reminds us we still live in ” the old”. This job, for me, is that. That reminder. And I need that reminder to not be too distant from the guests who come, and the neighbors who visit and whose lives become interwoven with ours.
The challenge for me is how to balance that without being too exhausted (physically, emotionally, mentally) to do hospitality. How can I be present, fully present, facilitating a support group for sex workers while exhausted. How can I feel welcoming to the friend who showed up hoping for a ride (and a few groceries ) when she missed the bus, when walking back to the car is physically painful. I realize it’s been a while since I’ve cooked a meal for the guests and friends who call Ibdaa home. Even longer since I delivered sandwiches and toiletries to those living outside.
Appropriate I should find myself reflecting on balance on the days around The Equinox. That moment when dark and light are in balance, day and night are equal. A time that reminds us that nature works on balance. We need both day and night, sunlight and dark, for life to thrive. It’s not not either/ or, but both/and.
Balance. Breath it in.
(PS — more on the support group for sex workers, and on the conference and general Ibdaa news soon )
About a week ago I posted a blog “A little help from my friends” asking for support to get to a conference. Friends have so far donated about $40 so I’m well on my way! Any of you all who know me personally know I believe in acting out of faith so I went ahead a registered, got a plane ticket, and a hotel room complete with 2 room mates. So excited that this is happening!
And, here is more exciting news! Several of you have emailed me to express concerns and ask questions… so we get to talk about this important issue!
And more …I brought news of the conference to the nonprofit MISSION and 3 more people want to go! Three more people who will learn, and get inspired. Welcome aboard Joel, Shaquanna, and Melva! With a group from MISSION wanting to go MISSION has agreed to allow us to raise money through the nonprofit. So, if you want to help you can now make a tax deductible contribution.
Here’s the details:
To make a tax deductible contribution that will be divided among those of us from MISSION who go simply go to http://www.missiona2.org/about-us–vision–mission.html or write a check to MISSION and write “RSOL Scholarship” in the memo line
Not worried about it being tax deductible? You can still donate directly to any of the 4 of us (and this is the fastest, easiest, most helpful way if it works for you!) paypal.me/playfullspirit or send a check to Sheri Wander, 782 Mildred Ypsilanti, MI 48198.
( As always, every dime is appreciated, but never expected. No obligation dear readers, just an invitation. And, of course, prayer support, positive energy, love, light and general good mojo and good woo is always gratefully accepted! )
If you are interested in setting up a time for me to talk with your group, organization, or you personally about this issue feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Note: For those that don’t know me personally or who haven’t been reading long, here is a giant oversimplification of some background. Ibdaa house grew out of Mercy house, a catholic worker style community I co-founded in Ann Arbor. Mercy House grew, in part out of Camp Take Notice and the Nonprofit MISSION that Mercy House co-founder Peggy was deeply involved in and introduced me to, as well as my work with the Meta Peace Team. )
Over Labor Day weekend the Ibdaa house family joined with our Mercy House family and other volunteers from MISSION to serve the Sunday meal at Crossroads soup kitchen in Detroit. (Those not familiar with Crossroads should check it out, they are wonderful people doing amazing work! http://crossroadsofmichigan.org/soup01.html )
MISSION, Michigan Itinerant Shelter System, Interdependent Out of Necessity, is a nonprofit where homeless and homeful people work in partnership on issues that impact those experiencing homelessness. We work in community to provide humanitarian aid to( those living outside, as well as education and advocacy. (You can learn more about it here: http://www.missiona2.org/watch-documentary.html )
One of MISSION’s core values is to give back to the larger community and group service projects are a staple of the organization. We’ve adopted highways, helped individuals active in homeless ministry make repairs on their own homes to prevent possible eviction, gardened for local faith communities, served at local food banks, shoveled snow for those in our neighborhood who are physically unable to, traveled to New Jersey to do Hurricane Relief work after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and each year bring a group of folks to serve a meal at Crossroads.
There is something really beautiful about a group of folks, most of whom are currently experiencing homelessness, or who are marginally and precariously housed with a recent experience of homelessness coming together to serve others who are in a similar situation. So often we divide people into the “helpers” and the “helped” , the “needy” and the “givers”. I believe those of who are often on the “giving end” can do well to remember that it is a important to our humanity and to others to learn to receive gracefully, and those of us who are often on the “receiving end” can help our own sense of dignity and autonomy when we find and create ways to give. We all have gifts to share, we all need to feel useful and needed. Because we all ARE useful and needed.
Volunteers doing food prep and set up…. cleaning tables, dishing up to go containers of potato salad, wrapping up slices of cheese, packaging up utensils and condiments, setting up the serving line… and talking, sharing, making friends and connecting.
Cooking and serving: hamburgers, baked beans, potato salad, dessert and coffee, lemonade and water
In spite of an oven that stopped working as we cooked the hamburgers MISSION cooks along with the incredible Crossroads volunteer managers and Sister Elizabeth served up 639 meals!
And then there was clean up.
Of course, the best part of the day was making new friends and reconnecting with old ones!
This is what community looks like. This is what solidarity looks like.