Finding Gratitude and Blessings  

2017 was a year of transition for my family.  I kicked it off at the end of 2016 when appalled by the election of President Trump I decided I wanted to fold up my consulting business and find work in my community, close to the ground and helping build a strong response to a critical human need. I found my place with the Whidbey Homeless Coalition as the part-time Executive Director with the intent of being full time by the end of the year. It was my first great gratitude: having a job that nurtured who I was and gave me an opportunity to give to my community.

But while the decision fed my soul it did not pay the mortgage.  So we put our home on the market. This was wrenching after living in it and making it our own for 24 years.  In the meantime, two granddaughters who had been living with us as their family was homeless were able to move back with their parents to an RV at the fairgrounds and then with help from the Coalition to a house.  This was my second great gratitude: a real house for this family for the first time in more than 3 years.

But then in September disaster hit. I experienced a cardiac arrest which I was not expected to survive. Strangely, the multiple doctors who saw me (and still follow me) could not figure out what caused it. To the medical folks I became ‘the miracle lady’. 

After weeks in the hospital I came home weak, with little stamina and a fuzzy brain. But I also had cause for overwhelming blessings: the Coalition’s Haven manager who I had been meeting with when the arrest happened saved my life by immediately starting CPR (She is a woman who never hesitates and always determinedly does what is needed.)  When I came home my family and friends stepped in with rides to appointments, meals, walking the dog, taking recycling, cleaning the house, and a sizeable sum to cover our mortgage and bills. The Coalition Board stepped in to cover my absence and treated me with patience and empathy  when they really couldn’t afford to.  This collection of blessings became my third great gratitude: learning how truly loved I was and the compassionate strength of the community I was a part of.

Throughout this year I gained a deeper understanding of the supports that the homeless in their isolation miss, and learned that a large part of what we must do is give them reason to find gratitude and hope amidst their disasters.  I have a new lens to look at my work as I focus on guests and this growing, deepening organization.  I am happy to be back.

Transitions

July 13, 2017

Judy Thorslund has done an amazing job with the website.  I have tried to continue in the spirit of lively and beautiful images, humor, and words of service and family.  Judy will continue to manage the Coalition's Facebook page as well as the Gallery and Our Extended Family pages on the website.  And of course she may, if we are particularly kind to her, consent to contribute to this blog.

Our Island is undergoing change. It is not a leap from point A to point B, but a slow, wandering journey and as a resident of almost 25 years it is sometimes unsettling and not clear to me where it is going.  Some friends say, when they hear of my new job, that they didn't know homelessness was a problem on the Island - while my young granddaughters ask about the person they see sitting in Generation Park in Langley with a shopping cart full of belongings. That tells me we have much work to do.

What we hear is that on North Whidbey the Navy population is increasing so available housing is shrinking and rents are increasing. We are hosting guests who work or are on social security, but no longer can afford to keep their housing.   On South Whidbey we hear that landlords are finding AirBnB and VRBO provides them a better income than a rental lease and that more well-to-do retired folks are moving in or buying second homes, which shrinks the number of rental units available.  School Districts on the Island are seeing an increase in the number of homeless children.  We have much work to do.

The Whidbey Homeless Coalition is also undergoing change, and as with all organizations the transitions bring frustrations, upended communications, and stretched staff. We have gone from two staff in March to six full and part-time staff today, as we  put new programs and approaches in place.  The Board meets twice a month now rather than monthly.  The number of volunteers committing hours and hours to mentoring and volunteering overnight at the Haven is amazing and without them we would be nowhere. (YES, we need more volunteers, but we are so appreciative and aware of the folks we have.)  Some of us get a little testy at times, but we are up to the challenges.  We hope that all of you will join with us, as we have much work to do.