Monday, January 31, 2011

Center for Public Policy Priorities calls for balanced approach to state budget crisis

What follows is a "call to action" from Scott McCown, Executive Director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin.  McCown's statement is a call to action issued to the superintendents of the public schools in Texas.  The state legislature faces a budget shortfall of approximately $27 billion as it meets in Austin. 

Consider McCown's plea and give me your responses.

A Call to Action to the Superintendents of Texas

Assembled for the Mid-Winter Conference, January 28, 2011

We have no reason for pessimism but pessimism itself.

Texas can meet the challenge of our state’s revenue crisis, which has left us at least $27 billion, or 27 percent, short of being able to provide services at their current level, but doing so requires a balanced approach that includes using all of our Rainy Day Fund and adding new revenue. In a democracy—where the most important election is always the next election—if citizens demand a balanced approach, the Legislature will take a balanced approach. All that stands between us and a pragmatic response to this crisis is the sort of pessimism that leads to doing nothing.

Texas has the second youngest population of any state, which is great for our future, but means that today we have lots of children we must educate to remain competitive in the global economy. Yet the proposed state budget funds local school districts over $9 billion less than what is required under school finance formulas.

Among other things, the state doesn’t fully fund projected annual enrollment growth of 92,000 students. The House completely and the Senate largely eliminates funding for teacher incentive pay, high school completion programs, technology allotment, and pre-kindergarten grants. Lynn Moak, one of the state’s leading school finance experts, has estimated that school districts may be forced to lay off as many as 100,000 employees, including teachers. This cuts-only approach is unacceptable. Your leadership with your school board, with your community, and ultimately with your elected representatives is essential to protecting our state’s future.

We must take a balanced approach that includes using all of our Rainy Day Fund. The state’s reserve (officially the Economic Stabilization Fund) will have $9.4 billion we can use to balance the budget. The constitutional purpose of the fund is to maintain vital state services during economic downturns. As our economy recovers, state revenue will recover; in the meantime, the fund can help cover state costs. The risk of not having the revenue in 2014-15 to replace Rainy Day Fund dollars spent now is slight. But if we don’t, we can always cut then; we have no reason to cut so deeply now. The fund itself will automatically replenish from dedicated oil and gas severance taxes. And, it is important to remember that the true reserve of Texas isn’t the Rainy Day Fund, but the backing of the people of Texas whose total annual personal income is almost $1,000 billion a year.

Unfortunately, our revenue shortfall is so large that a balanced approach also requires adding new revenue. No one is proposing a “tax-only” solution to our problem, but taxes should be part of the solution. We have options acceptable to the public. For example, we can adopt a Healthy Texas Revenue Package that 1) increases taxes on alcohol, 2) increases taxes on tobacco (raising the cigarette tax a dollar a pack generates $1.9 billion a biennium), and 3) imposes a new one-cent-per-ounce excess tax on sugar-loaded beverages (generating $2.5 billion a biennium). Or, we could eliminate unwarranted sales tax exemptions. Alternatively, we could temporarily increase our state sales tax by half a percent (with a rebate to protect low-income families) and raise about $3 billion a biennium. Money wisely spent from careful taxation strengthens, not weakens, an economy.

Relaxing certain state mandates for school districts might be part of a balanced approach, but I urge you not to settle for trading dollars in exchange for relaxing mandates. While some mandates may be vexing to you, most are part of maintaining a strong educational system, such as the 22-to-1 student-teacher ratio.

Everyone must work hard over the next several months. If the battle for a balanced approach is lost now, cuts in spending will largely be permanent. Your leadership is crucial to making the case for a balanced approach. I urge you to set aside any pessimism and step up for Texas.

F. Scott McCown, Executive Director
900 Lydia Street • Austin, Texas 78702 • T 512/320-0222 • F 512/320-0227 •

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Speak up!

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Proverbs 31:8-9
(New International Version, ©2010)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

NFL Experience

With Super Bowl XLV just around the corner, Downtown Dallas, Inc (DDI) is promoting all that is planned for the big event. 

Check out the NFL Experience video here

Or, hear ex-Cowboy great, Tony Dorsett describe the NFL Experience here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Wanted: Business partners who do well

Not only has CitySquare's experience over the past three years with PepsiCo and its family of companies been encouraging, it has demonstrated just how valuable for-profit/non-profit partnerships can be in a city.  When major corporations begin to understand what an important role they can play in taking community solutions to scale, the entire enterprise shifts.  I've been saying for a while now that companies should be encouraged to make a good return on their investments while engaged in projects and processes that result in clear, social good.  

The notion startles some folks, especially those on my side of the equation!  Non-profit leaders resist the idea of corporate profitability as a legitimate result of a company doing work to advance social good.  In my view we've got to shift our thinking in order to move toward sustainable solutions to the tough problems, challenges and issues that we face in urban America. 

Perry Yeatman, Senior VP at Kraft Foods, Inc and President of the Kraft Foods Foundation, gets it right in today's issue of The Huffington Post.  Read the essay and give me your reactions.

Doing Good and Making Money Can and Should Go Hand-in-Hand 

At an impact investing meeting at the US State Department last week, I was probably the only one in the room who didn't know that only 3 percent of the world's assets/funds were engaged in what's often referred to as "social innovation" or "impact investing." It's apparently known as the "97 vs. 3" dilemma. But whatever you call it, it was news to me and an obvious shortcoming to driving sustainable change, I think.

Why are micro finance funds, NGOs and foundations the only ones playing big in this space? How will we ever get enough of these great ideas and programs to scale if we only approach them as philanthropic endeavors? Let me be clear: I have HUGE respect for the groups that were in the room. We are in fact already partners with many of them! But, despite the good intentions and great work, the truth is that philanthropy -- in the broadest sense -- can rarely make the long-term impact business can. I think of it this way -- as the president of the Kraft Foods Foundation, I have about $100 million in cash and in-kind we can invest each year. But as Kraft Foods INC, my company has literally billions to invest in the things we need to buy. Effectively directed, what is likely to have a greater impact -- millions or billions? I think the answer is obvious. But clearly this point isn't obvious enough or that 97 percent of assets wouldn't be on the sidelines of impact investing.

That said, while it hasn't happened yet, I'm happy to say the tide seems to be turning and much of the world seems to be coming to this same conclusion -- including many of those here at Davos today. The discussion is gradually beginning to shift from "doing well by doing good" to "doing well by achieving shared outcomes -- outcomes that have both social and business benefits at the heart of their design." This may sound like mostly semantics to some of you but I think it's an important shift. I think it tells business that doing good is important BUT that it's OK to be transparent and upfront about what you need to get out of a partnership in order to make it work for your business and therefore be something you'd want to keep funding and growing. It wasn't that long ago that critics of big business would point to a program a company was funding and say, "but look, see what they are getting out of it" like that was a bad thing. I completely disagree. I think it's a good thing if a social outcome can be achieved while providing a business benefit, and I'm really glad others are beginning to come around to that point of view too. It's the ultimate win/win isn't it?

To read the entire essay click here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Jacob's Dream

On Tuesday, I visited with faculty, administrators and students at Abilene Christian University regarding "next steps" in a growing partnership among the various colleges of the university and CitySquare.  It was a very good day.

I met with some amazing students who are sold out to justice, compassion and authentic community development.  I know we will have some exciting, new relationships to report out very soon about CitySquare and our connection to this great, Texas university.  I'm very excited about it!

While I was there, I had the joy of seeing "Jacob's Dream," the amazing sculpture by Jack Maxwell standing on this campus.  I've posted a really inadequate photo--no photo can capture it! 

Here are some "Sculpture Facts" about this amazing creation:

The sculpture is 34 feet from the bottom of the pedestal to the top angel.

The site includes a round baptismal pool 10’ in diameter and 30” deep.

Each angel is eight feet tall.

The total metal work, including a stainless steel inner structure, weighs more than 7,000 pounds.

Models for the angels included the artist and six ACU and local high school students, utilized to verify proportions and musculature. With the exception of the second highest angel, whose portrait was based on Jack Maxwell’s son, Matt, the faces were inspired by individuals but not specifically modeled after them.

Several ACU art students assisted on Jacob’s Dream, and Jack’s wife, Jill, who also is an artist and talented sculptor, spent countless hours on the project.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

16th Annual Urban Ministries Prayer Breakfast with David Beckmann

CitySquare (formerly Central Dallas Ministries) invites you to attend our 16th Annual Urban Ministries Prayer Breakfast and Public Forum on March 3, 2011, at Dallas Market Center – Grand Pavilion.

CitySquare exists to fight the root causes of poverty by partnering with those in need. Working together as a community, we feed the hungry, heal the sick, house the homeless and renew hope in the heart of our city.

From the beginning, addressing the hunger needs of our neighbors has been at the heart of our work. In 1988, CitySquare began as a small store front food pantry. It is from this humble beginning that the work of CitySquare has grown.

The problems we see every day come from harsh realities. Texas has the 2nd highest rate of “food insecurity” in the U.S. and the highest rate of child hunger in the nation. We are hosting this year’s breakfast event in honor of the families in our communities that struggle to provide nutritious meals for their loved ones each day.

The Prayer Breakfast and Public Forum will give you an opportunity to learn about the problems associated with “food insecurity”, CitySquare’s unique response, and how you can join us in the fight against hunger. Together we can make sure there truly is FOOD FOR ALL.

When:   Thursday, March 03, 2011 7:00 AM -9:00 AM

Where:   Dallas Market Center (Grand Pavilion, 2100 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, TX 75207)

For information about tickets, tables and sponsorship levels click here

About our featured speaker:  World Food Prize laureate David Beckmann is one of the foremost U.S. advocates for hungry and poor people. He has been president of Bread for the World since 1991, leading large-scale and successful campaigns to strengthen U.S. political commitment to overcome hunger and poverty in the U.S. and globally.

Beckmann is also president of Bread for the World Institute, which provides policy analysis on hunger and strategies to end it. He founded and serves as president of the Alliance to End Hunger, which engages diverse U.S. institutions—Muslim and Jewish groups, corporations, unions, and universities—in building the political will to end hunger. He is also the author of the recently released book, Exodus from Hunger.

Bread for the World is a collective Christian voice urging our nation's decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad. Bread for the World members meet with and write personal letters and emails to their members of Congress. It is one of the largest organizations in the world dedicated to building the political will to end hunger.

Don't miss this very special opportunity to hear one of our nation's leading voices in the fight against poverty and hunger today.

[For more information contact]

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Treating folks right. . .

Robert Egger is a hero of mine and of a number of us at City-Square.  Founder and CEO of the DC Central Kitchen, this man "gets it."  For him, hunger is not about food.  Rather, it is a symptom of a larger issue/problem. 

This report appeared recently in the Huffington Post.  Read it and watch it.  Give me your reactions.  Egger is attempting to align and redefine non-profit influence and power.

Robert Egger: Fighting Hunger And Stereotypes
The Huffington Post Abby Wendle
First Posted: 01/21/11 05:52 PM Updated: 01/21/11 06:26 PM

Robert Egger, founder of the DC Central Kitchen and the Campus Kitchens Project, has a unique approach to charity work, which came to him the first time he volunteered to feed the homeless.

I looked at the homeless men and women and thought, we can shorten the line if we make them part of the process," he said.

In the late 1980s, when Robert proposed the idea to take donated food from restaurants and train the homeless to cook it, people were skeptical.

"They were stuck in an old fashioned kind of charity. They had all these different reasons of why it wouldn't work. People would tell me, 'you can't train the homeless.' I was shocked by that," he said.

But Robert was determined. With a James Brown song as his mantra, "Open Up The Door I'll Get It Myself,", he spent months applying for grants and appealing to donors. Finally, he got a $25,000 grant, bought a refrigerated truck and opened DC Central Kitchen. At the time, he wasn't sure exactly how it would all work.

"I was making it up, no one had really done this before," he said. But people came. "Men and women who were alcoholics and heroine addicts, then crack addicts," he said. And they kept coming. "In 1996, we had welfare reform and a lot of women who had never worked before needed jobs. Now we're dealing with felons," he said.

The Kitchen also attracts some of D.C.'s biggest names to volunteer. The day President Clinton came remains in Robert's memory as an example of the power the kitchen has to get the well-off to rub elbows with the down-and-out.

Clinton didn't know how to cut a carrot," Robert said. "It was up to a student in the basement of a shelter to teach the President how to cut a carrot. That's the power of what we do. We show that everybody has a role to play and everybody has value. We don't fight hunger as much as we fight stereotypes," he said.

The organizations that Robert started do, in fact, also fight hunger. Everyday, the DC Central Kitchen takes 3,000 pounds of good food that would otherwise get thrown out and turns it into 4,500 meals that are served at shelters and addiction recovery centers. The Campus Kitchens project replicates DC Central Kitchen's model at 26 high schools and college campuses across America, teaching students to cook recovered cafeteria food and serve it to those in need. Combined, the kitchens are steadily fighting back against the food insecurity 50 million Americans, including 10 million children under the age of six, face.

But the kitchen also fights the stereotype that nonprofit organizations cannot be financially self-sustaining without donations.

"Right now, we're forcing people to choose between being a .org or a .com," Robert said. "The future is a hybrid, like economic Buddhism. We can take a middle road and do both."

Two unique aspects of Robert's organization allow it to walk this middle road. The DC Central Kitchen launched Fresh Start, a catering employment project, to generate revenue. Fresh Start currently generates 50 percent of the Kitchen's funding -- the rest come from grants and donations -- by buying fresh food from local farmers and successfully competing in Washington D.C.'s catering market. Fresh Start also provides made-from-scratch meals for seven elementary schools as part of a pilot project to improve the quality and nutrition of what students eat.

Secondly, the kitchen's Culinary Training Program trains dozens of Washington D.C. residents who are homeless, poor and convicted felons each year. Robert's "ragtag army of food lovers and badasses" learn to work in the food industry. The training program aims to get at the root problems that cause hunger.

"Hunger is so not about food -- hunger is a symptom. Hunger is about wage, it's about being in prison," he said.

Click here to read entire report and view YouTube video.

We agree with Egger, and we have for a long time. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Tough times. . .multiplying needs. . .deep cuts

No one need remind us really that we find ourselves in the midst of tough times.  Especially hard hit has been the public sector.  Even in relatively prosperous states like Texas with comparatively low unemployment, local and state governments face huge budget deficits.  Elected officials struggle to balance budgets while embroiled in ideological battles of public policy and spending. 

In my view, we cut some things to our own peril.  Being penny wise and pound foolish will eventually catch up with us as a city, a state and a nation.  And, never forget, all of this come right down to the individual census tract and, even closer to home, the block where I live. 

The following report from The New York Times caught my attention.  It provides a good overview of what cities face,including even bankruptcy!

Read the report and then let me know your thinking.  Solutions?

Mayors See No End to Hard Choices for Cities

Published: January 21, 2011

WASHINGTON — Despite having one of the highest crime rates in the nation, Camden, N.J., laid off nearly half its police force this week after failing to win concessions from its unions. On the other side of the country, Vallejo, Calif., was filing a bankruptcy plan that proposed paying some creditors as little as a nickel or 20 cents on each dollar they are owed.

Mayors outside the White House on Thursday included, from left, Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City, Michael A. Nutter of Philadelphia, Antonio R. Villaraigosa of Los Angeles and Michael B. Coleman of Columbus, Ohio.

These are hard times for cities, and the mood was grim as more than 200 mayors gathered here this week for the winter meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors.

Many mayors have already raised taxes, cut services and laid off workers, even police and firefighters. Now they are girding themselves for more tough times, as falling home values are belatedly showing up in property tax assessments, and struggling states are threatening to cut aid to cities.

“I came in full of idealism — I was going to change my city,” said Mayor Bill Finch of Bridgeport, Conn., who has laid off 160 workers. “You get involved in government because you want to do more for the people, you want to show them that government can work and local government, by and large, really does work for the people — directly, you can’t hide. But then you say you’ve got to pay the same amount of taxes, and you’re going to get less.”

Some mayors said that they expected more cities, mostly smaller cities, to seek bankruptcy or possibly even default on their loans as the downturn grinds on, though municipal analysts see defaults as unlikely.

In interviews, mayors spoke about their efforts to keep their cities afloat by raising taxes, consolidating services, selling off city assets and shrinking their work forces.

Many of them, including Democrats who have been historically close to unions, said they were taking aim at public pensions, which they said were no longer affordable.

“That’s not a Democrat or Republican issue,” said Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, a Democrat who is supporting measures that would lower the cost of pensions for new police officers and firefighters and require employees to contribute toward the cost of their retirement health benefits. “The fact is, our pensions aren’t sustainable.”

To read the entire report click here.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

People just aren't who they appear. . .

The Sheep and the Goats

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

"The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Matthew 25:31-46 (New International Version, ©2010)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Lies and truth, two guys on a sidewalk

We had met about 6 months ago on the sidewalk outside the downtown YMCA. 

He approached me on that occasion with a fist full of papers, including an unused bus ticket to El Paso.  He told me he had just been released from the hospital, but had missed his bus.  He would need a small amount of cash to reschedule his trip on the same ticket.  I provided him what he said it would take to use the ticket.

About a month later I encountered him again at the same spot on the sidewalk.  He held in his hand the same documents.  He told me the same story, complete with tears and desperation. 

When I told him that he needed a new "play," he looked at me with bewilderment.  I reminded him that he had used the ploy on me already.  I chided him a bit by suggesting that at least he take  his game to a new street corner.  That last encounter sent him away up the sidewalk. 

Only two or three weeks later, I observed him running his scam on some other person at the same spot. 

Last Tuesday evening as I left the YMCA to head home with a growing case of the flu, he appeared again. 

This time he was limping. 

He had a stack of paperwork indicating that he had been bitten by a dog and had received treatment at a local hospital. 

At first I was very unwelcoming. 

"Don't game me, man," I told him without hesitation in a self-righteous tone.  "We've had this conversation now three times," I reminded him. 

I explained to him that I could hear anything, but I wouldn't stand still for some concocted story. 

He showed me his leg.  He made me read the papers.  Clearly both his condition and his dismissal papers were legit. 

He also shared with me that he had applied to live "in the building across the street," CityWalk, our downtown housing  development.  He was on our waiting list to get an apartment.

His request was simple:  he needed $7.00 to spend the night in a local, downtown area shelter. 

I handed him a $10 bill.

He continued to cry.

Then, he grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye and said, "I need to tell you something, sir."

"Okay," I replied.

He struggled to get the words out.  After several minutes of effort to battle past his embarrassment and shame, he chocked out his confession, "Sir, the reason I do this, the reason I lied to you before, is, well, I have a terrible heroine addiction.  I'm hooked bad and I can't find no treatment." 

He told me of his attempts to escape the hell his life had become.  He cried.  I tried to reassure him that we would try to help him in as many ways as we could.

As we parted, he on the way to the nearby night shelter that has sadly become the permanent housing for far too many, me to the safety of my home to fight off the impending flu, I thought about how different our lives were and how much the same.  Our needs were fundamentally the same.  Our opportunities and assets quite different. 

He lied to me on the sidewalk. 

He told me the truth on the same sidewalk square.

I expect we'll meet again.  The story is not finished.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Giving to those who beg

Ran across this story from the experience of C. S. Lewis.  Tell me what you think of it.

One day, Lewis and a friend were walking down the road and came upon a street person who reached out to them for help. While his friend kept walking, Lewis stopped and proceeded to empty his wallet. When they resumed their journey, his friend asked, "What are you doing giving him your money like that? Don't you know he's just going to go squander all that on ale?" Lewis paused and replied, "That's all I was going to do with it."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Prison and after: the New Jim Crow

The U. S. prison system contributes to the deterioration of our urban communities. The manner in which our criminal justice system treats minority citizens sets them, their families and their neighborhoods on a downward spiral into deep personal and social decline. The prison systems appears to be designed to make sure the majority of those involved return to prison again and again.

Listen to Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, describe the awful reality that we confront every day. Things need to change.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Responding with love

Wiping out mistakes. . .standing in a gap. . .loving others without condition on their terms. . .the stuff of community.

Watch this!


Get back to me.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

Man in the yellow raincoat

My friend, Robbie San Juan, shared this experience recently.  He gave me permission to use it here.  Moving.  Insightful. Honest.  Real.  What's your reaction?  Ever made assumptions about the folks you observe?

Prayers for the man in the yellow raincoat
by Robert San Juan on Friday, January 7, 2011 at 11:48am

So I was on the train going to work this morning and I was sitting behind this gentleman in a yellow raincoat. I wouldn’t say he was one of the many homeless that jump on the train to keep warm, but I will say he looked down on his luck.

He looked to be over 60, with glasses, a moustache and a dirty baseball cap. He was filling out a work application for some random burger joint that I had never heard of. In the space that was labeled “Where did you hear about us?” he wrote “craigslist” and dotted the “I” with a hollow circle.

Out of his worn bag he then pulled out 3 worn pieces of notebook paper. Those three pieces of paper were entirely covered in the same tiny handwritten scrawl, the i’s all dotted with circles. There was not an empty space left anywhere on the pages. There was writing cross-ways, up the sides, running horizontally and vertically. It looked like a prop from the movie “A Beautiful Mind”… and my first reaction to those pages was “oh no… I bet he’s crazy”. There were barely any spaces between the words making the handwriting almost illegible. ALMOST illegible.

As we rode the train together, he pulled the pages closer to his face so he could read them better, and in effect pulling it closer to me (And yes I did ashamedly invade his privacy by reading over his shoulder). As I studied the pages along with him I realized that every single “entry” on the page was information about jobs… managerial contacts… phone numbers… addresses… websites… URLs… he was really… REALLY looking for a job… somewhere, he had been lucky enough to gain access to a computer and had hand written all of this information on these three pieces of paper in his search for a job…

I found myself feeling severely ashamed that I had so quickly judged him… I felt angry that this man, that so badly wanted a job and wanted to work, did not have one… and I felt sad that I did not have a job to offer him… I wanted to ask him what sort of job he was looking for, thinking I might be able to help him… but was conflicted in that I would have to admit that I had been snooping over his shoulder, or that I might offend his pride in doing so. Before I could make up my lazy, self centered mind, he was up and off the train before I realized it.

So all I have for him now, this man in the yellow raincoat, is prayer. I’m praying for him. Praying that he was getting off the train for a job interview and will be employed very soon… I also have my ability to request prayers for him on his behalf, from those that are believers in prayer… so please pray for him, and all those like him that are searching so hard to provide for themselves and those that they love.

To the man in the yellow raincoat… thank you. Thank you for putting a little more perspective to my day. And I hope you are blessed with more than what you were ever looking for.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"Disruptive" can be good!

Sometimes you have to do your own thing! I've found that it's really good for community when you do!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Expanding vocabulary, poor children--all about words. . .

The number of words spoken to children early on in life make a world of difference!

Here's a quote from this report on an amazing research project:

But in the end, the finding that most struck people, Hart says, was not about the quality of the speech — how often rich versus poor parents asked questions or positively affirmed their children — but about the quantity.

According to their research, the average child in a welfare home heard about 600 words an hour while a child in a professional home heard 2,100.

"Children in professional families are talked to three times as much as the average child in a welfare family," Hart says.

And that adds up. Hart and Risley estimated that by the age of 4, children of professional parents had heard on average 48 million words addressed to them while children in poor welfare families had heard only 13 million.

Spend a bit more time here and isten to the less than 6 minute report from NPR:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Community medicine. . .really!

Here at CitySquare we've been working off of a "community care," community-based model in our Community Health Services department for a long time.

Listen to the following NPR report describing new approaches to medical education and community health improvement.  When in doubt, go to the community!

New Medical School Model: Adopt A Family to Treat

Monday, January 10, 2011

The high cost of inequality

For years now I've engaged in conversations with urban health workers regarding the effect of poverty itself, poverty as a self-understanding or psychic reality on overall health outcomes.  The impact of the "wealth gap" on people who live in inner city poverty has been obvious to me for a long time.  Economic status in a market-driven, ad-filled, consumer society that measures even human value in material terms must have a negative impact on the soul's of low-income folks.  It's part of what's back of teens going beserk over a pair of Nike's. 

Or take access to health care.  One of the reasons that universal, national health care is so important for public health improvement may relate to just this value proposition.  If my nation, my larger community believes that I am valuable enough to receive a health care plan/card regardless of my net worth or annual income, the provision of that benefit alone will likely improve my overall health.  I've felt that way for a long time. 

Nicholas Kristof provides insight into a body of serious research that confirms my hunch.  I'd love to hear your reaction after you've read what he says. 

Equality, a True Soul Food

Published: January 1, 2011
The New York Times

John Steinbeck observed that “a sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.”
That insight, now confirmed by epidemiological studies, is worth bearing in mind at a time of such polarizing inequality that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans possess a greater collective net worth than the bottom 90 percent.

There’s growing evidence that the toll of our stunning inequality is not just economic but also is a melancholy of the soul. The upshot appears to be high rates of violent crime, high narcotics use, high teenage birthrates and even high rates of heart disease.

That’s the argument of an important book by two distinguished British epidemiologists, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. They argue that gross inequality tears at the human psyche, creating anxiety, distrust and an array of mental and physical ailments — and they cite mountains of data to support their argument.

“If you fail to avoid high inequality, you will need more prisons and more police,” they assert. “You will have to deal with higher rates of mental illness, drug abuse and every other kind of problem.” They explore these issues in their book, “The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.”

The heart of their argument is that humans are social animals and that in highly unequal societies those at the bottom suffer from a range of pathologies. For example, a long-term study of British civil servants found that messengers, doormen and others with low status were much more likely to die of heart disease, suicide and some cancers and had substantially worse overall health.

There’s similar evidence from other primates. For example, macaque monkeys are also highly social animals, and scientists put them in cages and taught them how to push a lever so that they could get cocaine. Those at the bottom of the monkey hierarchy took much more cocaine than high-status monkeys.

Other experiments found that low-status monkeys suffered physical problems, including atherosclerosis in their arteries and an increase in abdominal fat. And as with monkeys, so with humans. Researchers have found that when people become unemployed or suffer economic setbacks, they gain weight. One 12-year study of American men found that when their income slipped, they gained an average of 5.5 pounds.

The correlation is strong around the world between countries with greater inequality and greater drug use. Paradoxically, countries with more relaxed narcotics laws, like the Netherlands, have relatively low domestic drug use — perhaps because they are more egalitarian.

Professors Wilkinson and Pickett crunch the numbers and show that the same relationship holds true for a range of social problems. Among rich countries, those that are more unequal appear to have more mental illness, infant mortality, obesity, high school dropouts, teenage births, homicides, and so on.

They find the same thing is true among the 50 American states. More unequal states, like Mississippi and Louisiana, do poorly by these social measures. More equal states, like New Hampshire and Minnesota, do far better.

So why is inequality so harmful? “The Spirit Level” suggests that inequality undermines social trust and community life, corroding societies as a whole. It also suggests that humans, as social beings, become stressed when they find themselves at the bottom of a hierarchy.

That stress leads to biological changes, such as the release of the hormone cortisol, and to the accumulation of abdominal fat (perhaps an evolutionary adaptation in preparation for starvation ahead?). The result is physical ailments like heart disease, and social ailments like violent crime, mutual distrust, self-destructive behaviors and persistent poverty. Another result is the establishment of alternative systems in which one can win respect and acquire self-esteem, such as gangs.

Granted, humans are not all equal in ability: There will always be some who are more wealthy — and others who constitute the bottom. But inequality does not have to be as harsh, oppressive and polarized as it is in America today. Germany and Japan have attained modern, efficient economies with far less inequality than we have — and far fewer social problems. Likewise, the gap between rich and poor fell during the Clinton administration, according to data cited in “The Spirit Level,” even though that was a period of economic vigor.

“Inequality is divisive, and even small differences seem to make an important difference,” Professors Wilkinson and Pickett note. They suggest that it is not just the poor who benefit from the social cohesion that comes with equality, but the entire society.

So as we debate national policy in 2011 — from the estate tax to unemployment insurance to early childhood education — let’s push to reduce the stunning levels of inequality in America today. These inequities seem profoundly unhealthy, for us and for our nation’s soul.

Saturday, January 08, 2011


We spend lots of time encouraging people who've forgotten how or never knew how to just dance! Go on, just dance! Don't sit it out!

Friday, January 07, 2011

Embrace the city. . .

American history and psyche has been shaped by a bias toward all things rural. 

Cities are usually seen as negative. 

The country regarded as positive. 

Whatever your point of view (I prefer cities!), the essential role of urban centers, culture and economics in shaping life, health and progress is simply undeniable.  Especially important is the role of dense population centers in creativity and entrepreneurial breakthroughs.  Our needs in today's shrinking, complicated, interdependent world argue for more density, for greater proximity. 

Edward Glaeser would agree.  Consider his evaluation of cities and our future as a nation.  Let me hear your reactions. 

America’s Revival Begins in its Cities

December 30, 2010
by Edward Glaeser
Boston Globe
Published in the Harvard Kennedy School journal

DURING ECONOMIC downturns, we begin to fear that we are entering a permanent period of decline. But we can avoid that depressing prospect if we recognize that a revival will not come from federal spending or another building boom. Reinvention requires a new wave of innovation and entrepreneurship, which can emerge from our dense metropolitan areas and their skilled residents. America must stop treating its cities as ugly stepchildren, and should instead cherish them as the engines that power our economy.

America’s 12 largest metropolitan areas collectively produced 37 percent of the country’s output in 2008, the last year with available data. Per capita productivity was particularly high in large, skilled areas such as Boston, where output per person was 39 percent higher than the nation’s metropolitan average. New York and San Francisco enjoy similar per capita productivity advantages. Boston also seems to be moving past the current recession, with an unemployment rate well below the national average of 9.8 percent.

Since 1948, the national unemployment rate has exceeded 9 percent only one other time: the grave 1982 recession. During the 1980s, we looked at Japan and saw an economy that seemed to be surpassing our own. Today, we watch with unease as China surges.

Yet American decline is not inevitable. During the 25 years after 1982, our real gross domestic product increased by 3.3 percent per year, which was also the rate of growth during the quarter century before 1982. Our post-1982 growth involved massive economic restructuring. Manufacturing employment fell by 39 percent from its peak of 19.4 million jobs in 1979. The 1979-2009 manufacturing decline was more than offset by the 126 percent increase in employment in “professional and business services” and the 184 percent increase in education and health jobs.

Boston provides a model of how cities can foster such transformations. In the 1970s, Boston seemed headed for the trash-heap of history. Manufacturing jobs had vanished, and social chaos ensued. But Greater Boston experienced three great decades, as a former industrial hub became a capital of the information age. Our area’s high levels of productivity reflect the value of ideas that are made in Boston.

To succeed in the future, the country needs to produce a stream of new ideas, like personal computers, Facebook, and steerable catheters. We must produce goods and services innovative enough to command the high prices needed to cover high labor costs.

Such breakthroughs rarely come from solitary geniuses. The movie “The Social Network” hints at the messy, interactive process that created Facebook, which now has over 500 million users and is valued at about $40 billion. Mark Zuckerberg benefited from being surrounded by smart peers, whose ideas about social networking helped his company get started.

The roots of Boston Scientific reveal a similarly collaborative process that started in the basement of a Belmont church. The brilliant inventor (and spiritualist) Itzhak Bentov created a steerable catheter, catering to the demands of Boston’s medical community. Boston connected Bentov with John Abele, who brought his business vision, and later connected Abele with other partners, who helped him create a medical innovation behemoth.

Cities have long enabled economic creativity. Detroit in 1900 looked a lot like Silicon Valley in the 1960s, with an entrepreneur on every street corner. In that urban hotbed, innovators like Ford and Buick and the Fisher Brothers supplied and financed each other — and borrowed ideas freely. The urban edge in engendering innovation explains why globalization and technology have made cities more, not less, important. The returns to being smart have increased, and humans get smart by being around smart people in cities. While all workers in the Boston area benefit from the region’s human capital, the flow of knowledge seems strongest in the dense clusters of Boston and Cambridge.

For decades, the American dream has meant white picket fences and endless suburbs. But the ideas created in dense metropolitan areas power American productivity. We should reduce the pro-homeownership bias of housing policies, such as the home mortgage interest deduction, which subsidize suburban sprawl and penalize cities. We should rethink infrastructure policies that encourage Americans to move to lower-density environments. Most importantly, we should invest and innovate more in education, because human capital is the ultimate source of both urban and national strength.

As we grope towards a brighter future, we must embrace our cities, and invest in the skills that are central to their success.

Edward Glaeser is a professor of economics at Harvard and director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Govern­ment and the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, both at Harvard Kennedy School.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Give the poor money!

Years ago a silly sounding question kept coming to my mind.  It went something like this,

"What if, instead of doing all the stuff we do, we simply raised money and handed it over to the poor to see what they could do with unfettered opportunity?" 

Of course, we never did anything like that, I suppose for a number of reasons, good and not-so-good.  Still, the notion of putting assets in the hands of the poor to craft their own destiny just feels right.  What is needed in the equation would be "benchmarks" of accountability and progress. 

Now comes, as reported by The New York Times, what appears to be a worldwide movement to accomplish just what my question hoped and implied.  Give it a read and let me know what you think

January 3, 2011, 8:15 pm

To Beat Back Poverty, Pay the Poor


The city of Rio de Janeiro is infamous for the fact that one can look out from a precarious shack on a hill in a miserable favela and see practically into the window of a luxury high-rise condominium. Parts of Brazil look like southern California. Parts of it look like Haiti. Many countries display great wealth side by side with great poverty. But until recently, Brazil was the most unequal country in the world.

Today, however, Brazil’s level of economic inequality is dropping at a faster rate than that of almost any other country. Between 2003 and 2009, the income of poor Brazilians has grown seven times as much as the income of rich Brazilians. Poverty has fallen during that time from 22 percent of the population to 7 percent.

Contrast this with the United States, where from 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the increase in Americans’ income went to the top 1 percent of earners. (see this great series in Slate by Timothy Noah on American inequality) Productivity among low and middle-income American workers increased, but their incomes did not. If current trends continue, the United States may soon be more unequal than Brazil.

A single social program is transforming how countries all over the world help their poor.

Several factors contribute to Brazil’s astounding feat. But a major part of Brazil’s achievement is due to a single social program that is now transforming how countries all over the world help their poor.

The program, called Bolsa Familia (Family Grant) in Brazil, goes by different names in different places. In Mexico, where it first began on a national scale and has been equally successful at reducing poverty, it is Oportunidades. The generic term for the program is conditional cash transfers. The idea is to give regular payments to poor families, in the form of cash or electronic transfers into their bank accounts, if they meet certain requirements. The requirements vary, but many countries employ those used by Mexico: families must keep their children in school and go for regular medical checkups, and mom must attend workshops on subjects like nutrition or disease prevention. The payments almost always go to women, as they are the most likely to spend the money on their families. The elegant idea behind conditional cash transfers is to combat poverty today while breaking the cycle of poverty for tomorrow.

Most of our Fixes columns so far have been about successful-but-small ideas. They face a common challenge: how to make them work on a bigger scale. This one is different. Brazil is employing a version of an idea now in use in some 40 countries around the globe, one already successful on a staggeringly enormous scale. This is likely the most important government antipoverty program the world has ever seen. It is worth looking at how it works, and why it has been able to help so many people.

In Mexico, Oportunidades today covers 5.8 million families, about 30 percent of the population. An Oportunidades family with a child in primary school and a child in middle school that meets all its responsibilities can get a total of about $123 a month in grants. Students can also get money for school supplies, and children who finish high school in a timely fashion get a one-time payment of $330.

Read this entire fascinating report here

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Images from above. . .

On Tuesday, January 4, 2011, a solar eclipse could be observed over most of the Middle East.  The images below come from 


To see more images go here.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Headlines to hope for. . .2011

On New Year's Day, The Dallas Morning News' editorial board published a creative, lead opinion piece containing headlines the group hoped to see during the coming year. 

It got me thinking about news reports that I'd really like to read during 2011. 

How about you?  What stories would you hope to read? 

Here's my partial wish list of the news I hope and pray we can make together as a community over the next 12 months:

1.  State legislature crafts fully funded health and human services approach.

2.  Childrens' Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expands enrollment to cover 95% of eligible children statewide.

3.  Medicaid to include more robust mental health benefits for patients.

4.  Kidney dialysis funds found for Medicaid patients in Dallas County.

5.  Collin and Denton Counties fully fund residents who access care at Parkland.

6.  North Texas Food Bank receives record funding, lowers shared maintenance fees for partner food pantries.

7.  North Central Texas destined to become alternative, green energy capitol of U. S.--thousands of new jobs created for unemployed workers living in inner city neighborhoods.

8.  Dallas County provides green job work skills training to 5,000 workers.

9.  Business tax credits established in state for green energy projects.

10.  DART bond funds major expansion of light rail system across region.

11.  City steps up, affordable housing development for poor and formerly homeless to set records through 2015.

12.  Homelessness cut by 50% thanks to community coordination and council leadership.

13.  DISD adopts principal as CEO management plan, hundreds of mid-level, non-campus positions eliminated.

14.  Community health workers drive improvement in diabetes and obesity among youth.

15.  D.R.E.A.M. Act signed into law by President Obama!

16.  Faith communities ban together to battle poverty in Dallas--plans include new approaches to service, lobbying and educating memberships

17.  Teen pregnancy drops sharply in 2011

18.  Average wage rises among low-income, working residents

19.  Reading scores soar as schools and parents craft creative new learning partnerships

20.  Texas Rangers win team's first World Series in six games!

Monday, January 03, 2011

How will poor fare in Austin in 2011?

Fifteen months ago, Texas governor, Rick Perry appointed Tom Suehs Executive Commissioner, Texas Health and Human Services Commission.  This may have been the governor's best appointment during his historic term.  Suehs manages to get along with both sides of the predominately Republican Texas legislature.  He speaks bluntly, pulls few punches and understands what's at stake for the poorest residents of Texas as the state faces an historic $24 billion budget gap over the next two years.  Suehs understands that facing such a budget challenge legislators will find programs for the weak, the poor and the marginalized easy targets for cuts.  But Suehs' understanding of the problems of both the state and the poor make him a key player in the work that will begin later this month in Austin. 

Here's the report that appeared in The Dallas Morning News on Saturday, January 1, 2011:

Texas' social services chief expects agonizing budget process
By ROBERT T. GARRETT / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – As lawmakers gear up to hunt for every penny they can use against an unprecedented budget gap, Texas' safety net for the poor and vulnerable figures to get a lot of scrutiny.

The Legislature's Republican leadership will confront weighty questions, such as how many children the state can afford to provide medical care for and what level of care and supervision can be provided for the elderly and disabled.

At lawmakers' elbows will be the chief of state social services, Tom Suehs. He predicts an agonizing process.

"There are not too many nice and easy decisions," he said recently. "That's why they're going to migrate to cutting some of the optional" services in Medicaid, a health program covering 3.3 million poor children, pregnant women and frail adults.

But Suehs (pronounced "seas") is quick to add that optional services – which can be taken away from adults on the program, though not from youngsters – are not frills. Cuts will be costly and painful.

"I want to do a better job of describing the balloon effects," he said. "If you squeeze the community mental health, you're going to end up possibly with more people in prison, and that'll cost money over there."

Advocates for the needy hold out hope that the former lobbyist will prove to be the man of the hour. At the very least, they predict Suehs – fully vested in the state pension system and with nothing to lose – won't gloss over the consequences of reduced funding.

"Tom's been a straight shooter," said disability rights advocate Bob Kafka of Austin, who has known Suehs for decades.

Read the entire report here.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Inner City Beauty

Most people don't think of inner city communities as "beautiful." Mine is, especially in the fall and spring. I captured these images from my front lawn and looking up and down and around my street.

I'm not saying it's Vermont, but fall is beautiful in East Dallas!

Happy Birthday, MOJ.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Just one thing. . .

Resolutions wear thin on me most years.

So, for 2011, I'm going to open my eyes and resolve just one thing: I will do my best to drink in every blessing as it comes, and be thankful.

For starters. . .

Happy New Year 2011!