I’m worried

I’m worried

Christmas is three months away. We are finally heading into the last quarter of 2020 and I have some deep concerns about where we go from here. For perhaps the first time in my life, my superpower of being able to roll with the punches, is feeling greatly challenged by the antagonist’s evil forces.

Another day working from home. That, I don’t mind. There are valuable resources of time and money being saved by not having to commute and being able to eat lunch at home. I am no longer a working mom of a school aged-child, so there is some peace found in my current situation.

I think back to the challenges I had as a working parent – back in the days when parents went to work and children went to school. I can’t even begin to imagine where we’d be in this. Even if your child is given an opportunity to attend school in person, it’s still a challenging environment, and parents are still worried about contagion.

Although we are the lucky ones. We are healthy. So far, our families and friends have escaped the worse of the pandemic and its collateral damage. We are employed. We have roofs over our heads and the bills are getting paid. That is certainly not the case for everyone. There is also that nagging question of will it last?

Then there is the divisiveness that rules our country and has trickled down into the crevices of our small communities. Fueled in part by social media as angry white men and suburban soccer moms shout insults and death threats from the security of their keyboards.

Some question whether elected officials have our best interests in mind, whether police officers are truly committed to protecting all of our citizenry, whether our country’s president understands the constitution he swore to uphold, and whether the judiciary will side with the rule of the laws set forth by previous courts.

Some see it differently. They may feel disenfranchised; they may believe something is being taken away from them or that America took a wrong turn somewhere, and this current state is somehow on course to right that wrong. People, who it would seem, have a very narrow view of what it means to be responsible to others.

And here we all sit. Waiting for November 3 like a ticking bomb we are powerless to defuse. 

As if a global pandemic, ensuing financial downturn, and a combusting heightened intolerance for inequality wasn’t enough. On top of trying to imagine how we all come out from under this burden, we are still victims of our own lives. The day-to-day stuff we always worried about.

For me, this time of year especially, it’s some form of PTSD because of my own experiences (the anniversary of my husband’s suicide is October 6), and I know we all have our own challenges to bear, behind, and perhaps escalated by, the obvious universal social ills. From what I’ve witnessed and discussed with friends, it’s taking a huge toll on everyone’s mental health.

I don’t have a conclusion or a collection of steps we can take to feel better about any of this. This was all just an observation. I think all we can do at this moment is simply pause and acknowledge there’s a problem. Maybe next week we’ll be in the right frame of mind to talk about how we’re going to make it through what remains of the year.

Destination unknown. Vernon Hills, Illinois. September 2020.
Why United Way?

Why United Way?

Bergen County’s United Way (BCUW) in New Jersey is where I started my non-profit career 24 years ago this month. It turned into my longest tenure at a job, and I have often wondered why I left.

The experiences I had in the non-profit sector, the people I encountered, and the impact on numerous causes I feel I had post BCUW, proved to be extremely rewarding. So, no regrets. Although now having an opportunity to once again be part of the United Way’s work here in Chicago is truly satisfying.

United Way, for over 100 years, has been helping people and making communities better. United Way convenes other non-profits poised to tackle the issues unique to each community, fosters collaboration to solve problems, and raises the resources needed.

It’s never one issue, one disease, or lack of investment in a single area that causes deterioration in the quality of life for some. And this is why the United Way’s collaborative approach is so needed.

The United Way network is made up of nearly 1,800 autonomous 501c3 organizations, each governed and funded locally. The network spans more than 40 countries and territories and 6 continents. It serves 61 million people across the globe, fueled by 2.9 million volunteers and 8.3 million donors (United Way Worldwide, click on link to find the United Way that serves your community).

I felt very fortunate to be working with United Way in the suburbs of New York City on September 11, 2001 and the days, weeks and months that followed. Our response to our community in crisis was important work that gave me a sense of purpose.

Now here in Chicago, amid a global pandemic that has disproportionately affected our country and more accurately has disproportionately affected low-income families, I feel I can make an impact.

Each local United Way knows it’s community, it’s resources, and what it needs to thrive. United Way is uniquely positioned to bring together community-based non-profits, government leaders, businesses, and individuals to tackle issues.

The United Way of Metro Chicago (UWMC) has been focused on two areas:

  1. Programs and Partnerships that work across our region to provide for the health, education, financial stability and  crisis intervention for our most vulnerable residents;
  2. Neighborhood Networks which focuses our work on a number of targeted neighborhoods.  

39% of households in Cook County struggle to meet their most basic needs. In Lake County it’s 32%, and in DuPage County 30% of households are classified as “ALICE” – Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. These are the families of four with household incomes less than $28.57 an hour. This is 2017 data, so well before the pandemic.

“ALICE households are the backbone of our communities, working hard but forced to make tough choices, such as deciding between quality childcare or paying the rent, which have long-term consequences not only for ALICE, but for all.”  

(LiveUnitedChicago.org)

Through our Programs and Partnerships, UWMC is committed to…  

…improving access to quality health care by supporting organizations that help people navigate insurance options and connect them with primary care physicians, preventative programs and mental health services.

…ensuring all kids have access to quality pre-K and after-school enrichment programs, prevention interventions, and physical and mental health services.

…increasing financial stability by focusing on job training, financial literacy and tax assistance for residents who need it most.

…working with social service providers to ensure fundamental needs are met—such as food, housing and safety from abuse. 

This is also the population hit hardest by the pandemic. Job loss. Inadequate nutrition and healthcare. Lack of resources for children’s online learning. Lack of childcare for essential workers. Fear of eviction.

United Way of Metro Chicago in partnership with the Chicago Community Trust and the City of Chicago created the Chicago COVID-19 Relief Fund and began making grants before the end of March. In the first three months of the pandemic, thanks to the generosity of foundations, business, and individuals like you, close to $25 million was dispersed to our non-profit partners doing the work on the front lines. For more on the Chicago Community COVID-19 Relief Fund, click here.

One remarkable initiative coming out of the COVID-19 response is Chicago Connected which will assure that Chicago Public School students have high-speed internet access. Not just for the duration of the pandemic but for four years! The COVID-19 crisis highlighted the city’s digital divide and this program will give students the ability to participate in remote learning and increase their digital literacy. For more on this program, click here.

We were able to respond quickly to this crisis because of the work we were already doing within our partnerships and neighborhoods across the city.

Since 2013, our Neighborhood Network approach has been helping targeted neighborhoods solve problems. There are currently ten Neighborhood Networks each led by a “Community Quarterback” – a lead agency already working within the neighborhood with an understanding of the needs and how best to create needed change. 

It’s a “for and by the community” approach that empowers neighborhoods to create the kind of place they want to live and work. United Way provides the resources. We don’t tell them what to do. Only they know what’s best for their community.

“As Chicagoans, we have a great love for our neighborhoods across the city and suburbs. There is plenty to celebrate, but the zip code you live in can have a significant impact on your access to opportunities. By tackling issues—neighborhood by neighborhood—we can stabilize our community and improve the quality of life for all our neighbors across the entire region. A community-led approach, supported by both the public and private sectors, will help ensure all residents can thrive.” 

(LiveUnitedChicago.org)

The United Way’s ability to create stronger neighborhoods, and respond to our neighbors in crisis, is limited only by the resources we can raise. This is where you come in. We cannot do it without the generosity of our communities. When United Way comes to your workplace this fall, please be as generous as you can be. Your neighbors need you!

THANK YOU!

Suicide Prevention. Right now. Is everyone’s job.

Suicide Prevention. Right now. Is everyone’s job.

Today – September 10th – was World Suicide Prevention Day. I couldn’t go to sleep tonight without saying something.

Here in the U.S. this week (September 6-12) is National Suicide Prevention Week. This is the sixth National Suicide Prevention week for which I’ve been a survivor of suicide loss; the sixth consecutive year that I have felt compelled to say something.

What I’ve had to say in the past:

I hope what the progression through the years shows is my growth as a survivor. I believe, now at this point almost six years later, that I have provided an example of our resilience as humans and that we all do have the ability to move forward.

More importantly, I hope what I have shared has been a lifeline for someone else. I hope I have raised awareness so each and every one of you knows that it can happen to someone you know. And that reality has helped you act before it was too late.

As my personal journey with suicide loss has been focused on healing and creating awareness, we still see suicide rates continuing to rise. Now, during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts fear an even greater increase in suicides (for more on this read Are We Facing a Post-COVID-19 Suicide Epidemic | Psychology Today)

According to the CDC, “the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has been associated with mental health challenges related to the morbidity and mortality caused by the disease and to mitigation activities, including the impact of physical distancing and stay-at-home orders. Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April–June of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.”

While suicide statistics have only been published through 2018, the CDC study shows that 40% of adults in the U.S. reported struggling with mental health issues. The people most at risk are those 18-24, Latinos, Blacks, and essential workers.

“According to a Boston University School of Public Health study published last week by the JAMA Network, prevalence of depression symptoms has risen 3 times higher during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to before. The 21st also takes a look at a recent piece from The Trace in July showing how in Cook County, Illinois, there has been an alarming rise in suicides in Black communities.” (The 21st Show | Illinois Public Media, 10 Sept 2020)

The bottom line is that we must lookout for our friends and family. Now. Today. We can not assume that everything will be alright. Reach out to the people you care about to see how they are.

Recognize the risks. Become familiar with the warning signs. Know what you can do to help.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a wealth of information. Please read. Please share.

From CNN “World Suicide Prevention Day: Here’s how to help”:

If you live in the US and are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for free and confidential support. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For crisis support in Spanish, call 888-628-9454.TrevorLifeline, a suicide prevention counseling service for the LGBTQ community, can be reached at 866-488-7386.

Crisis Text Line provides a live, trained crisis counselor via a simple text for help. The first few responses will be automated until they get a counselor on the line — which typically takes less than five minutes. If you are in the US or Canada, text 741741. If you are in the UK, text 85258 and those in Ireland can text 50808. The National Health Service also lists a variety of resources on its website.

The Best Summer Ever! – that wasn’t

The Best Summer Ever! – that wasn’t

The plans were hatched during the winter break. Summer 2020 was going to be the best summer ever. Two young women halfway through college were going to spend the summer in Chicago living on their own. The apartment belonged to one; her roommate would be moving out at the end of the semester. It was located just a few short blocks from Lake Michigan and about a mile and a half from the beach!

Her friend was from back home – New Jersey – and was at college in North Carolina, so they didn’t see each other much anymore. Unless you count all the FaceTime calls and snapchats and whatever else it is the kids are doing these days to stay in touch. This summer was going to make up for that! 

The calendar was beginning to fill up with concerts and other plans. And of course there was Lollapalooza, the four-day music festival in Grant Park they had been attending together for the last four years. Year five was going to be monumental they mused across cellular service more than 800 miles apart. 

One secured a job at a Chicago concert venue where the hours were limited, but the tips were excellent. And of course there were perks! Her friend was looking for a job in Chicago too, so there wouldn’t be too many financial limits on all they dreamed this summer could be.

I wasn’t privy to all the plans. I’m the mom of one. I had my own aspirations of what this summer could hold for my girl and her friend, and I was hoping that at times they’d let me crash the party – or at the very least, ask me to drive them somewhere. The only small piece of the puzzle was getting buy-in from the friend’s parents and I was willing to help with that. 

Everyone ignored the signs that 2020 was going to be different. I did deliver a bunch of paper goods, non-perishable food items and frozen dinners to fill her freezer at some point in February just in case this virus they’re talking about had her stuck in her apartment for two weeks.

By the week of March 8 though, COVID-19 was here. Their colleges were beginning to plan for online learning that would begin after spring break. The NCAA announced that the spring season for all sports would be suspended. She talked to her friend on Thursday evening. She played varsity lacrosse for her university and this left the team wondering how they would navigate their future as collegiate athletes.

That was the last time they would speak. In the early morning hours of March 13th, something went terribly wrong for seven college athletes. It would change their plans forever. Summer 2020, for my girl, would become something to get through. There was the weekend back in June when she imagined her friend would have arrived. There were dates of cancelled concerts; Lollapalooza weekend being especially hard. There was no job anymore. No FaceTimes. No snap chats.

Her new roommate moved in last week. I won’t be spending as much time with my girl in the city as I did all summer long. I’m usually one to hold on to summer for as long as I can. This year, I’m prepared to close the book on it now. Summer 2020 left us with a reminder that nothing is ever certain. “These uncertain times” are really all of the time. 

Still, we make plans and courageously move forward into the unknown.

One, moving forward. Navy Pier. Chicago, Illinois. July 2020.

Six ways to go on living after loss

Six ways to go on living after loss

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” – Anne Lamott

Have you ever looked so particularly sad that someone would suggest that “you look like you lost your best friend.” So a deep sadness is defined by what you would feel if you lost your best friend? What if you have?

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