Monday, February 04, 2019

Community First! Village

For those of you who have read Awakened, you may recall in the epilogue, I discussed Community First! Village in Austin, TX - a community established to restore dignity and community to the chronically homeless in the Austin area. I had the extreme privilege to visit for a week in December and stay in one of their tiny homes in their Community Inn. I knew my readers would be keenly interested in learning more about this exciting village, so I did be best to take lots of pictures to help tell the tale.

So first off, here is the cozy tiny home that I stayed in for the week:

(you know like the slippers from Wizard of Oz!)
It had a full size loft bed, a twin bed on the main level, gas stovetop grill, fridge, and full bathroom with shower.
Photo credit : Community First!
Photo credit : Community First!
Photo crddit: Community First! 

Photo credit : Community First! 

Ruby was very comfortable, and I was ever more grateful for the HVAC unit. It got pretty chilly at night in December in Austin, but the min-split unit kept the tiny house toasty warm. I was also grateful when I discovered it had a Keurig coffeemaker, so I woke each morning with a delightful cup of coffee to start my day out right!

Also included in the selection of accommodations in the Community Inn are, yes, Tepees! It seemed a bit too cold for this option in December. Imagine my surprise when I woke Monday and discovered that other guests had slept in the teepees.

Community First! has an amphitheater where they host free family movie nights on Friday nights that is open to the public. It is a great way for the surrounding neighbors to learn about the community. 

 Mobile Loaves and Fishes originated as a ministry that provided food, hot beverages, water, socks, and blankets to the homeless around Austin by driving to the various homeless camps and serving Goodness with trucks like this one.

They now have a fleet of trucks!

One of the wonderful elements of construction through out the community is the water catchment systems that is included on the tiny houses as well as the public community buildings. This water is used to water plants and gardening.

Along with the water catchment, the community also has included solar power in the design of several buildings. (at the corner of Grace and Mercy Trail and Goodness BLVD.)

The community has an incredible garden. They hold a farmers market on Saturdays where everyone in the village can get fresh vegetables for free.

How's that for an outdoor chess set?

The coolest barbecue grill ever. I tried really hard to figure out how to get it home with me. They watched me really close every time I got near it.

Homeless individuals are allowed to select from RVs, canvas "tent homes", or tiny homes varying in size. They pay monthly rent which varies depending on the size of the home. Residents can work in various jobs within the village to pay their rent, laundry mat, and have spending money. Jobs include grounds maintenance, cleaning the community buildings and shower houses, working in the gardens, and working in the auto service shop that provides car wash/detailing and oil changes to the general public.

They even have a community library where residents can check out books and movies.

A sneak peek in the door of the chapel.

They have an art studio, a blacksmith shop, and a woodworking shop where residents can earn money building various items and selling them to the surrounding communities. 

There is even a frisbee golf  (or disc golf) course. 

They have enough laying hens that everyone in the community gets a dozen of fresh eggs each week.

I had the honor of volunteering for 4 days alongside of the residents who were performing their daily jobs in the village and got to hear their stories of what it was like living on the streets and how they came to live at Community First! It was encouraging to hear them tell how the community had changed the quality of their lives and restored their dignity.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

What Changed?

gun racks for pickup trucks carrying rifle in pickup truck in nh archive northeastshooters model
image source:

In 1980, I was 16 years old attending Mitchell County High School. When I pulled into the high school student parking lot in my 1973 Chevy El Camino, I parked beside Ford F150s and Chevy C10s.In the back windows of those pickups were gun racks holding Remington shotguns for dove and quail hunting, .22 rifles for squirrel and rabbit hunting, 30-30 and 30-06 rifles for deer hunting. Many days there was a shotgun behind the seat of the El Camino and a five gallon bucket in the passenger side floorboard with 3 boxes of shotguns shells. We often set in a deer stand before school. As soon as school was dismissed, many of us headed to the fields and the woods. When  I walked down the hall, most of the guys had a leather sheath on their belts which held a lock blade knife for skinning what we shot so we could have it for dinner. If the pop top broke off on a Coke can before it opened the can, those knives were handy for remedying the problem.

I do not recall anyone brandishing a weapon in class. There were no mass shootings in high school or during college. So I am struggling to understand what has changed. There were no gun vaults in homes. Most families had a wooden cabinet with a glass door in the front that held all of their rifles and shotguns. Since that time, locking trigger guards have been developed and sold widely.Heavy gun vaults have been marketed and widely sold. Schools are now gun and knife free zones. By every stretch of the imagination, students should be safer now than we were in the 1980s. But on the contrary, we have seen a rise in school shootings. What has changed?

Several things have happened since 1980 that may have influenced the situation we now see before us. The first was the deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill.

 "In 1955, there were 558,239 severely mentally ill patients in the nation's public psychiatric hospitals. In 1994, this number had been reduced by 486,620 patients, to 71,619." (

So where did they go? When the closed the state mental hospital in Georgia, they simply released the residents onto the streets.

"Thus deinstitutionalization has helped create the mental illness crisis by discharging people from public psychiatric hospitals without ensuring that they received the medication and rehabilitation services necessary for them to live successfully in the community. Deinstitutionalization further exacerbated the situation because, once the public psychiatric beds had been closed, they were not available for people who later became mentally ill, and this situation continues up to the present. Consequently, approximately 2.2 million severely mentally ill people do not receive any psychiatric treatment." (

Video games came on the market. Without naming titles, suffice it to say that there are a number of games that romance stealing automobiles,running from the police, and shooting anyone that gets in your way. A majority of titles dominate the gaming scene with first person shooter roles providing active shooter simulation.

Respect for adults, authority, and human life has decreased in the last 30 years. Disciplining children has been frowned upon and allowing children to "speak their mind" and "question authority" has been wildly encouraged.

Are these the reasons behind the increase in mass school violence? I don't know. But I am perplexed that 30 years ago, the amount of weapons that were on school campuses across the country were significantly higher and mass shootings were significantly lower.

Something changed.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Social Media Storm

Over the past few weeks, social media has exploded with people upset at what someone said on twitter or what someone said that someone else supposedly said in some closed door meeting somewhere. Social media and 24 hour news channels have taken what was once a somewhat disconnected world and made it a small town.

I grew up in a small town and quickly tired of small town gossip, because it was hardly ever accurate and caused a great deal of unnecessary drama. It was quite reminiscent of the game we played in kindergarten where you whispered something in someone's ear, and you couldn't repeat it. They turned and whispered what they thought they heard you say into the next person's ear until it went all the way around the room. In the end the first person would stand up and say, "I said Sally has red shoes." The last person would stand up and say, "I heard - Jimmy is in love with Mary Lou." Everyone would laugh and shake their heads. I don't think we caught what the teacher was trying to teach us. The point was, if you listened and repeated the story you thought you heard, you would miss the message entirely. And perhaps, you might want to go to the source and verify the story before passing it on, but that wouldn't be any fun right?

Several years ago Pop worked construction and a c-clamp broke holding a cable on a huge piece of equipment a crane was lifting. The broken pieces of c-clamp hit Pop across the bridge of his nose breaking his nose and bruising his face so badly his eyes were swollen shut. His crew brought him home late on a Thursday night. He couldn't see a thing from the swelling and his face was black and blue. We lead him around the house by his hand and helped him get a shower and to bed. The next day, I knew he was going to need some help, so I skipped school and played personal assistant. I completed expense reports and placed his hand where he needed to sign, wrote his weekly report which he dictated, and generally did anything that he couldn't. He needed to go to the bank and deposit his paycheck, so I drove him to the bank and guided him to the teller line. One of the Vice Presidents of the bank was walking through the lobby, saw his swollen face and quickly came over to see him.

"Dick, what happened to your face?", the banker asked.

"My wife,my firewood, my business", Pop replied with a straight face.

The banker scurried off to his office.

Pop turned to me a quietly said, "I bet that stirs up the local gossip hot line."

When we drove up to the house, my Mom came running out the door and to the pickup where we were getting out.

"What did you say at the bank?", she screamed.

We both began laughing hysterically at how fast the rumor had circled town and had already gotten back to Mom.

Well 50 years later, social media and 24 hour news channels eager to have breaking news to share has turned the world into a small town eager to pass the garbled message someone thought they hard. My question is this:

"What good does it do to worry about what someone said on Twitter. Why worry about things you can't do anything about?"

We're not going to force a president or a congress member to resign, because we are appalled by their comments posted on social media or in the news. And we're not going to change a foreign leader's itch for a nuclear missile button.  So, why don't we utilize our energy and efforts for something we can change like the lives of those around us who are hurting, hungry, or homeless? We can't change the world, but we can change things in our corner of the world. Why don't we try to spread a little love and grace to those around us and hope that it will multiply?

Let's quit worrying with what someone said on social media and start worrying with what we say and do with those around us.