Monday, February 26, 2007

Lunch and Learn: Knitting and Crochet

Now, even though I'm an avid (rabid?) knitter, I rarely write about my favorite pasttime in these pages. But, I recently began teaching a group of people in my office how to knit during lunch hour on Tuesdays, and it has been a great experience for me. After teaching them the basic knit and purl stitch, each person in the group knitted up a square and my crocheting co-worker joined the squares together and crocheted a lovely edging that integrated grosgrain ribbon along the edge. The purpose? We gave the masterpiece to yet another co-worker when he adopted his new son. The result? A group of fiber-inspired people who are now wishing they could quit their jobs and knit all day!

Last week, the crochet master Linda D. taught us all how to crochet. Our first project will be a beret! I jumped ahead a bit and I've been making granny squares for a blanket for myself. I'm a wild woman!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Don't miss out

In Memorium
On old college friend of mine died of cancer last week. He was only 36 years old. Jeff Tarkington was a TV producer for the History Channel and CMT and others, and by all accounts was very successful, he even won an Emmy. I found all this out because the other day I decided to say hello to an old friend from those days, and he told me about Jeff. Timing is everything, I guess. Anyway, Jeff was funny as hell, handsome, and smart. He was also a slutty homosexual man who used to tell me I was a gay man trapped in a woman's body. I never really understood what he meant by that, but it was funny at the time. His friend, Beverly Keel, wrote a column about him (just past the part about Keith Urban) if you are interested in reading more.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

There but for the grace...

My company CEO lives in Kentucky on a lovely horse farm. He spends his weekdays in a company-rented apartment in a building right across the street from our downtown Atlanta offices. As a result of his time spent there, he began noticing the large number of homeless people in downtown Atlanta. He's a very nice man, in spite of being the boss, and the problem really bothered him. So, he asked our staff to form a group to help combat the homelessness problem in the area. The fact that he's been less-than-supportive of the efforts since starting the group is another story that I don't care to get into. In any case, I joined the group.

We've done some pretty wonderful things in the four months as a "task force." For Thanksgiving, the office sponsored two underprivileged families and donated food and grocery store gift cards so that they could enjoy a special meal for the holiday. We sponsored the same two families for Christmas, and delivered an abundance of gifts for the kids that included a small television and coats and other needed clothing items as well as toys and cleaning supplies for the grandmothers who are caring for the kids.

A few weeks ago, we brought in a couple representatives from the Atlanta Homelessness Task Force to present a "lunch and learn" session to the staff so that we all can better understand what is happening in our city. That was truly eye-opening. According to HUD, a family must have a household income of $30,000/year to be able to afford the average two-bedroom apartment in Atlanta. The fact is, though, that 48 percent of Atlanta's children live in homes with less than $15,000 annual income. It makes it pretty difficult to "rise up" from your condition when you are spending all your income on housing.

One of the representatives from that Task Force was actually a man in the program. He told us his story of how he became homeless a little over a year ago and what the group is doing to help him get back on his feet. He said he never dreamed he'd be homeless. He had a job, but it paid week-to-week, and when the company when out of business suddenly, he was left with nothing. And, in Georgia, a landlord has the right to kick you out just seven days after rent is due. (I worked for a law firm in Michigan several years ago that dealt with landlord/tenant issues and there it took 90 days to evict someone.) He found the Task Force through his church. When asked about his experience, he said the biggest surprise was that more than half the residents of his shelter had jobs.

There is so much more to this story that I won't go into now. But, suffice to say, homelessness is a very different problem than most people think it is.

One cause of homelessness is drug and alcohol addiction. I don't want to go into whether or not it is someone's fault that they are addicted, because we all know someone with addiction problems. Food, nicotine, booze, whatever. The point is that for some people the addiction causes them to lose everything: money, job, family, dignity.

Some of those people have made it to a place in Atlanta called Samaritan House. This group helps people with addictions, anger issues, etc. deal with their problems while they try to get back into the world. One off-shoot of the group is a cafe that serves homeless men and women lunch through the week and is open to the general public on weekends for brunch.

A few days ago, several of us from my office volunteered at the cafe. We prepared the food, waited on the folks who came in, and bused our tables and cleaned up after lunch was over. It was a great experience. And really strange. Some of the people looked the part: They were a bit disheveled and generally looked in need of assistance in life. Others looked like they could be my neighbors. It was sobering, to be sure.

I know how fortunate I am in this life. I have a wonderful family and am able to make a decent living, and I have time for hobbies and reading and blogging. But, sometimes I think of how stupid people are when they are young and how easily I could have made a devastating decision early on. My life would be a lot different than it is today. I doubt I'd be homeless, but so did the man who came to speak from the Atlanta Homelessness Task Force. Scary stuff.