Thursday, August 29, 2013

Adjusting the effective minimum wage that YOU pay. . .

I've tried to imagine what it would be like to attempt to build a life on the earnings of the current, national minimum wage which is $7.25 an hour.  No matter how you slice the challenge, providing the necessary support for a family or even for an individual while earning at the minimum is impossible.

Every few years we debate the issue in an attempt to adjust the baseline upward.  The debate is so predictable that I'm not going to outline it here again.

I've got a better idea.  Let's have the debate.  Let's raise the minimum to a more appropriate level (Australia's minimum wage is $15.96).

But let's do something today about the low reward for labor among the poorest of our friends.

Here's my suggestion:  wherever possible, when you purchase goods and services, calculate the value of the labor expended to bring you what you value enough to purchase.  Once you've thought through this value proposition, pay off the unrewarded "value wage" of your transaction.  In many retail settings this won't be possible or even necessary.  But in many situations your "wage supplement," some will call it a "tip," can be determined and passed along with gratitude and affirmation of the worker who meets your needs.  We say that we value labor.  We want people to work, right?  But how much do we really value labor?

For example, waiters usually earn minimum wage or less and count on gratuities to fill the wage gap.  But there are many other places where I can adjust the minimum wage that I am willing to pay based on what the goods or services mean to me.  How much do I value what is delivered to me?

Earlier this week I took my car to the tire shop for the repair of what was becoming a flat tire.  In East Dallas at Carroll and I-30 you can get your tire repaired for $10.  The afternoon was blazing hot.  The young man who repaired my tire worked hard at the task at hand.  He took pains to remove what appeared to be a fiberglass chard from the tire, allowing me to inspect the reason my tire was on the way down.

As he worked, I began to calculate the cost of his labor to his employer.  With a unit of service in my case  costing $10, I thought of the value that I placed on the service and the delivered product.  I came up with a number well above the set price.

My equation was simple:  set unit value + time required to deliver service + quality of service delivered + overall satisfaction with the service + what the service meant to me in terms of my need = value added gratuity or "wage adjustment."

Bottom line:  I adjusted this young man's wage for my transaction.

While this doesn't solve the problem or move forward a solution to scale, it does provide me a meaningful way to do my part in engaging my economy for the sake of fairness and equity.  By treating a worker at a time with fairness and equity, I proactively recognize the value provided by the working people who meet my many needs.

You can adjust the minimum wage paid laboring people today.  Give it a try.  I can tell you it definitely builds community and inspires working people.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Helpful comments

Across the years of my "blogging life" I've gone back and forth on moderating comments.  For most of the time that I've posted here, I've allowed any comment to be posted on this site.  Occasionally I've been forced to remove comments due to their highly offensive nature, but such action has been required on only a handful of occasions.  It has always been my policy to remove commercial comments.  In addition, I've welcomed comments from my "anonymous" friends and readers.

However, over the past couple of years the tone of a few readers has changed.

Comments often have nothing to do with what's been posted.  Often comments display hateful attitudes that provide no helpful thoughts or useful content.  Most of the offenders use my every post to lash out with  political statements having absolutely nothing to do with what I'm discussing.

As a result of this change in comment content on the part of a few readers, I've decided to change my editorial policy.

Beginning today, all comments posted to my blog will be moderated/reviewed before being allowed on the page for everyone to read.

As always, comments posted in opposition to ideas contained in what I post will be welcomed.  Honest, respectful debate will be encouraged on any subject or statement that I make or post here. Comments far afield of the subject at hand will be blocked.

In addition, hateful, disrespectful, outrageous and/or offensive comments will not be allowed onto my page.

While I encourage all readers to post their names to the comments offered, I will continue to accept anonymous comments which pass the test outlined here.

Thanks for following the conversation here.  I will do my best to release all of your helpful comments and ideas in a timely manner.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

To build "the whole"

In short, no pattern is an isolated entity.  Each pattern can exist in the world, only to the extent that is supported by other patterns:  the larger patterns in which it is embedded, the patterns of the same size that surround it, and the smaller patterns which are embedded in it.

This is a fundamental view of the world.  It says that when you build a thing you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, and more whole; and the thing which you make takes it place in the web of nature, as you make it.
Christopher Alexander, et. al.
A Pattern Language:  Towns, Buildings, Construction, page xiii
(New York:  Oxford University Press, 1977)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Flying without a net. . .

One of the real "upside" factors of my work is the board of directors serving and providing governance to our organization.

These wonderful men and women give so freely and sacrificially of their time, talent, money, ideas, commitment and encouragement.  I recognize how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to work alongside such an amazing group of people.

At virtually every meeting of our board something encouraging, insightful, surprising and challenging comes up or is said.  Most of the really exceptional stuff just arises out of the context of our work and our conversation.

Last night at our regular quarterly meeting the discussion turned intense as we laid out challenges, amazing opportunities and a sense of progress and momentum.

Craig Spaulding, an incredibly accomplished senior housing developer, fly fisherman and financial genius, spoke up to say, "Larry, it must be hard flying without a net for so many years."  

Never before had I thought of my work in quite those terms.  However, as I pondered his comment, made in the midst of his explanation of a very creative idea to provide relief for ongoing cash flow issues, I saw his point and had to agree.

We do fly without a net a good bit of the time around here!

As our meeting went on, I couldn't stop thinking about his metaphor.

Then, it hit me:  "We fly without a net around here whenever we have to because the people we love so much live without nets almost all of the time."  

The intermingling of ideas, values, helpful engagement and passionate concern for and connection with "our people" never ceases to amaze me.

In fact, this is the essence of CitySquare.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Neighbor

Love Your Neighbor

The hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbor as the self–to encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control, but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Detroit and hard lessons. . .

[The demise of Detroit, Michigan provides a fairly terrifying story for other large urban areas to consider, study and evaluate in view of local challenges.  This is certainly true for Dallas, Texas as we search for a new City Manager, Housing Director and City Attorney.  

The following essay from Joseph E. Stiglitz offers much food for thought.  

As always, I'd love your reactions.  What does Detroit have to teach us all?  LJ] 

The Wrong Lesson From Detroit’s Bankruptcy

Click here to read more.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


I've got it good.

I have a place that I refer to as home, complete with running water, bathrooms, a kitchen,  comfortable beds and lots of furniture, electricity, books, televisions; you know, the list goes on and on.

I can never remember going hungry, unless it was one of the very few times I've fasted intentionally.  Like everyone else, I get hungry everyday.  But, going hungry?  Not me!

I have cars.  Not just one, cars.  Whenever I want to go somewhere, I go.  Often, I fly.

I have plenty of clothing in closets--again, not just one.  My sock drawer is running over, sort of like my closets.  I did mention multiples, right?  And shoes?  Too many for one of my closets.

I've had lots of education--informal and formal, with degrees and future options for more.

I have a great family, lots of colleagues and crowds of friends.

I'm welcomed almost everywhere I go.  I get lots of invitations to join folks for fun, interesting events.

People accommodate my needs, my mistakes, my selfishness and my expressed desires, almost all of the time.

When I mess things up, people pull around to compensate, to make up for the ground I've lost.  Or, they confront me with my poor performance, while doing whatever it takes to get me back on track.

I am loved.

I am cared for.

I am encouraged.
Last Thursday, as I stood on the red hot sidewalk out at "the Corner," I watched scores of homeless friends stop by for a cold drink of water or Gatorade, a piece of fresh fruit and a snack. 
One guy stood out.
He was not exceptional in any way, really.  If anything, he was typical.
But, somehow I really saw him.  Know what I mean?
My hunch is he is younger than me, maybe mid-50s, but he looked much older.
His shoes were broken down, run over and about shot.
He was barely limping along. 
He was so very hot.
His brown jeans were filthy, as was his white shirt.
He seemed in a daze, not due to the abuse of any substance, but likely induced by too much "street" time in  the heat. 
I have no idea why he stood out to me.
As I directed him to a cold beverage and a snack, I was overcome with emotion. 
My life circumstance flooded over me, as did what I imagined of his. 
I had to brush back tears. 
This is Dallas.
This is the street.
This is slow death.
This is injustice.
How I respond to that one man is the ultimate test of my faith, my life and my heart.  

Friday, August 09, 2013

Press Release: CitySquare wins state award!

CitySquare Receives Governor’s Volunteer Award for Community Leadership for Its Food on the Move Program
Dallas, TX. August 5, 2013 --- The 30th Annual Governor’s Volunteer Awards have been announced with CitySquare being named as a recipient in the Community Leadership category. These awards allow the State of Texas to recognize individuals, organizations, corporations and public entities that truly embody the Texas tradition of community service.  The Community Leadership category recognizes an individual, group or organization for strengthening their community through outstanding partnerships, service and volunteerism. Community Leaders understand the importance of service and develop connections between groups and individuals to help them craft collaborative solutions to local needs. They exhibit a dedication to their communities that inspires those around them to serve.
Food on the Move provides over one million meals in a mobile feeding program targeting youth at low-income apartment sites, churches, nonprofits, and summer camps.  Funding for the food comes through the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program. Food on the Move takes a stand against childhood hunger statewide, offering mobile feeding programs in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. Through an innovative collaboration with AmeriCorps, the program has delivered meals and provided enrichment to thousands of children. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has hailed Food on the Move “a model for the rest of the nation.”
“Both the kids we serve and our AmeriCorps members benefit from Food on the Move,” says Dr. Keven Vicknair, Director of the Food on the Move and AmeriCorps programs at CitySquare, “We are proud to be recognized with the Community Leadership Award especially for a program that is helping to shape young people into community leaders.”
All of the awardees will be honored on September 11th at a private dinner with OneStar Foundation board members and other dignitaries at the Renaissance Austin Hotel in Austin. In addition, awardees will be recognized throughout the Texas Nonprofit Summit on September 12th and 13th 2013.
CitySquare is one of the largest, most effective faith-based organizations in North Texas, operating a network of services and programs focused on fighting poverty through hunger relief, health care, housing and hope. CitySquare is the third largest summer food sponsor in the state of Texas.  A United Way agency, CitySquare is ranked a 4-star charity by Charity Navigator with more than 92% of revenue going directly to its programs.
                                                                     # #  #  #

For more information about the event and the work of CitySquare, please contact: Katherine Allen at 214.303.2146,  or Lou Ann York at 214.343.1599, .

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Employment for crew hired off "the Corner"!

I love this photo!

Jerry James (shown here on one knee in front) serves as the "foreman" for our landscape crew.

We hired each of these folks off of "the Corner" where we show up on Thursdays for refreshments, conversation and friendship creation.

Jerry comes from a tough background himself that includes time behind bars.  He works as hard as anyone I've ever known.  His crew follows his lead.

This group of formerly unemployed, homeless persons executed the landscape plan for the Opportunity Center that CitySquare is building at the corner of Malcolm X and I-30.

What you see here is a moment in time on a pathway to renewal and transformation.

This is our work.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Tuesday, August 06, 2013


I'll confess, I've never really thought much about the value of trees.

Oh, I've often been aware of their beauty.

As a kid, I climbed among their strong branches and up their trunks, at times even attempting to construct a house in the air.

Occasionally I've cursed the unruliness of certain varieties.

And, I've enjoyed the shade provided to my mostly all-window back porch.

But as far as the personal, actual value, the utility of a tree, I've been in the dark most of my life.

Standing on "the Corner" changed that for me.

We've been out there most weeks for the past 15 months.

During that time, I've learned to take refuge under a very ugly, unwieldy tree.

But, strangely, the tree has become my friend.

In the rain, it acts as a needed umbrella.

In the heat, it provides more than welcome shade.

Even in the winter, windy cold, it blocks the sting of freezing temperatures.

As I've related to the tree, it has occurred to me that trees are in large part a generous gift to people who have no home.

I truly believe God made trees for people like the ones I meet with on "the Corner" every Thursday afternoon.

Somehow I just can't look at trees the same anymore.

Judged by the music of their songs, I expect the birds agree with me.

Monday, August 05, 2013

We call it "reciprocity"!

Running across a statement of one of the fundamental principles/values of our organization always pulls me up short.  Here is a great restatement of our belief in and insistence upon "reciprocity."  


Breaking down the barriers between the givers and the receivers of aid, between those who have and those who have not, is an essential expression of the solidarity that liberates the privileged from their blindness and the marginalized from their invisibility.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Restoring all things. . .

A New Society

The first words about the Christian life are not about what we as individuals can experience, but about the kind of society God intends. The gospel, or good news, is that in Christ, God’s coming kingdom is breaking into the here and now–in the depths of the believer’s heart, but also in the world itself. This kingdom encompasses economic, material, psychological, political, social and spiritual existence.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Word composite

Recently, CitySquare enjoyed working with INSPIRE on a strategic thinking exercise.  The entire process was provided on a probono basis.  We will begin working on action steps in the very near future to activate our new learning about how to better do our work in the city.

During the process, the INSPIRE team interviewed many of our team members and customers to gain insights into our organization.  One of the more fascinating outcomes of this impression tour was a "word composite" of the impressions people reported about CitySquare.

The first image below maps the responses to the prompt, "What are 3 words that best describe CitySquare?"

The second image maps answers to the question, "What are 3 words that best describe your specific program?"