Writing is an opportunity, not an obstacle

“Writing is an opportunity, not an obstacle.” –Dr. Kilgore, University of Texas at Arlington– 

I wish I could take credit for these words, but someone much wiser than myself said them first. This phrase has been resonating with me and I thought I  should make it into one of those cheesy motivational posters or something for my office.

Cheesy Motivational Poster

By the way, you can make all of the cheesy motivational posters that you want to using Motivational Poster Generator…it only takes a second or two and it’s free!

I’ve always had a passion for writing. I wrote short stories and founded a poetry club in elementary school. Recently, I stumbled upon a collection of our poetry club’s works that my third grade teacher had bound for each of us. Wow! I laughed so hard that I cried and I contacted one of my old friends who had also contributed to the book. We reminisced about the many recesses spent rhyming words and stringing together limericks and a haiku or two while spinning around on the merry-go-round. While our collection of poetry isn’t something that I would send to a publisher, we were writing daily and I think that that, in and of itself, is pretty special.

Why should you write every day?

  1. Writing can be therapeutic. Have you ever kept a diary or a journal? If not, I definitely recommend it. Often when I feel stressed or overwhelmed, writing is a wonderful way for me to collect and process my thoughts. It allows me to write (or type) until I have released that ball of energy (either positive or negative) and can then begin to think more clearly, to focus, and to see my own situation from a new perspective.
  2. If you don’t use it, you lose it. This is true with a lot of skills. Writing is not like riding a bike. The skills that you use need to be kept up and sharpened. If you don’t feel like you are a strong writer, do not be discouraged. Writing improves with time and practice. If you aren’t a good writer and would like to be, write, write, and write some more!
  3. Writing helps to build communication skills. Whether it is a restaurant review, an op-ed for a newspaper, or a letter to your grandmother, your written word has to be understood by your intended audience. Learning to express yourself in a clear, concise manner through writing spills over into other aspects of your life.
  4. You can improve your critical thinking and analytical skills. Writing often requires you to pull information from various sources and to determine what material is credible, valid, and important. It encourages you to ask questions, to search for answers, and to fill in the gaps in the current body of knowledge.
  5. Vocabulary maintenance. One of my old coworkers and I play a game together. We take turns finding new, interesting words that the other has to work into either daily conversations or their writing. Not only is it fun, but it makes us both accountable for expanding our vocabularies. Can you work the word boondoggle into daily conversations or into what you’re writing? I can.:PBoondoggle
  6. You’ve got something to say. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard people mutter something along the lines of, “I don’t write because I don’t have any ideas” or “No one cares what I have to say.” You don’t give yourself enough credit. You do, indeed, have things to say that someone, somewhere wants to hear. Maybe you haven’t found the right audience or maybe you haven’t let your creative juices flow yet. Stop limiting yourself. You have a voice, which brings me to my next point.
  7. You are the only person who has lived your life experiences. Your story is unique and you are unlike any other. This alone gives you a reason to write. Your perspective is shaped by all of the events that have happened to and around you. Your perception, emotions, judgments, resiliency, passions, etc. make you uniquely you. If you ever feel like writing, but are discouraged by your lack of audience, please feel free to send me your written work. I would be more than happy to provide you with feedback and to support you on your journey.
  8. Write often so that you can see your growth and progress. Am I still the third grader who writes poetry on the merry-go-round? No, but I do write often. I write continuously as a researcher and a student. I write this blog which provides me with a voice in the social media stratosphere. The blog has been an interesting experience thus far because it is so different than writing for academia. This type of writing forces me to cater to a diverse audience that I do not typically write toward and it leaves me open and vulnerable. Occasionally I dust off an old journal or read a paper that I had long forgotten about. It is incredible to see the progress that I have made, not only in my writing skills, but in my perception as a whole. My outlook has changed and I have a vastly different worldview than I had, say four years ago. I can see that in my writing and it is a great indicator my personal and professional growth, the goals that I have reached, and the areas in which I still struggle. I can then use that information to plan my future trajectory. I know where I was, where I am, and where I want to be, and it is all reflected in my writing.

Often, as students and young professionals, we think of writing as a means to an end. We write to get A’s in our classes. We write to complete our coursework and to get degrees. We write because our jobs require it. We write because we have to in order to move on to the next steps in our plans.

With that mindset, writing seems like a chore. People think and speak of writing negatively and, somewhere along the line, many of us stop writing altogether. We forget that writing is an opportunity, not an obstacle. I encourage you not to squander your precious gift, your voice, your opportunity. Write, write, and write some more!

Be the change,

Erin

 

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Self Care in the Face of Uncertainty

 

With a new life chapter quickly approaching, I started to feel the anxiety that often accompanies the unknown. Recognizing this, I took some time off to seek the peace and clarity that, for me, can only be found in the stillness, the quiet, and through grand adventures.

Many of what I’d consider life-changing moments have happened in the face of uncertainty. The logical side of my brain knows that and is excited as the best is yet to come.

UncertaintyYet, there was a part of me that needed a break. Self-care in the helping profession is key to longevity and to effectiveness. You can’t pour from an empty cup. You have to take care of yourself or you risk developing compassion fatigue and/or burnout. Don’t be afraid to take some time for yourself. You’d be amazed at how much motivation, enthusiasm, and determination will surface after you take a little time to replenish those energies and rejuvenate your soul.

What did I do with my time off? Well, I relaxed, I laid on my acupuncture mat, I called up old friends, I played tabletop games, and I spent time with family. My brother and I went to the aquarium. My husband and I went to Hot Springs, Arkansas and hiked at Hot Springs National Park and bathed in the spring-fed baths. I drank wine. I read. I thought. I gave myself the opportunity to slow down and to be fully present in the moment (which doesn’t happen as often as I’d like).

So, forgive me for the silence as I temporarily stopped flooding my life with politics, blogs, social issues, policies, and news in general. While all of those things are of great interest and importance to me, I needed to focus my thoughts inwardly for a short time.

Now, as I read about what to expect from the PhD program and (attempt to) prepare for what is to come, I see a common theme: Write, write, and write some more. So that’s what I plan to do. Write, write, and write some more. I hope that you’ll join me on this journey!

 

What do you do for self care? Join the conversation by commenting below.

 

Be the change,

 

Erin

 

She’s Someone: Addressing Rape Culture and the Stanford Rapist

Last week my husband asked me about the direction that I felt this blog was moving and the tone that I want to maintain throughout my posts. Without hesitation, I explained that this blog is going to address heavy and often controversial topics. This is going to be a place where I shed light on social injustices that occur right under our noses and yet, remain unseen, unheard, and unaddressed. I intend to create an outlet where people can feel free to ask questions, express their opinions, debate issues, learn, and grow. I want to leave my readers with calls to action, inspiring them to create change.

Basically, I didn’t create this as a space to rant and rage, but rather to inform, encourage, and inspire…

But, I’m outraged and I felt that it was inappropriate to leave the issue unaddressed.

If you’ve read any headlines lately, you’ve probably read about what the media has been referring to as “The Stanford Rape.” A 23-year-old woman was sexually assaulted behind a dumpster as she lay unconscious. Her assailant, 19-year-old (at the time of the assault), Brock Turner. Two bicyclists noticed the victim survivor was not moving and confronted Turner who attempted to flee the scene. The two men restrained Turner and held him until police arrived. The woman bloodied, bruised, and dehumanized, was taken to a hospital. The case went to trial and Turner was found guilty by a jury of three counts of sexual assault. Turner could should have faced over ten years in prison for the charges, but instead only faces a six-month jail and probation sentence.

Six months??!!

Here’s what the victim survivor had to say about the reasoning behind the lenient sentencing:

The probation officer weighed the fact that he has surrendered a hard earned swimming scholarship. How fast Brock swims does not lessen the severity of what happened to me, and should not lessen the severity of his punishment. If a first time offender from an underprivileged background was accused of three felonies and displayed no accountability for his actions other than drinking, what would his sentence be? The fact that Brock was an athlete at a private university should not be seen as an entitlement to leniency, but as an opportunity to send a message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class. –Direct quote from the letter the victim survivor read to Brock Turner in court.

Only six months??!!

Meanwhile, nonviolent criminal offenses can lead to 25+ year sentences.

  • Weldon Angelos, father of 3, sentenced to a 55-year mandatory minimum for selling marijuana.
  • John Horner, father of 3, sentenced to 25 years for selling painkillers.
  • Richard Paey sentenced to 25 years for forging prescriptions.

And, others charged with sexual assault face much harsher sentences.

  • Genarlow Wilson, 21, serving a 10-year sentence for consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old. He was 17 at the time and the 15-year-old was his girlfriend.

 

Yet, Brock Turner faces only six months??!!

 

While I do not condone the illegal acts described above, I find myself stunned at the severity of the punishments  and the countless lives affected by these harsh consequences. Then, on the other hand, I just cannot fathom how our justice system allows individuals such as Brock Turner to be sentenced to only 6 months jail and probation after sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster!

Sexual assault advocacy and victim services aren’t my areas of expertise, but I am a social worker, an advocate, a woman, and a survivor of sexual assault. I wanted to show my solidarity with the victim survivor who has suffered immeasurably from the assault, the trial, and the judge’s sentencing. I couldn’t let another minute go by without telling her how sorry I am that we failed her.

  • We fail to teach boys that ongoing enthusiastic consent isn’t an option, but a requirement when you want to touch someone else’s body. It’s more than a suggestion or a defense to be used after you’ve committed the heinous act of rape.
  • We fail to provide real consequences when boys act inappropriately and excuse their actions saying, “Boys will be boys.”
  • We teach young men that, if they’re athletic, they don’t have to be kind, make good grades, or play by the rules. We emphasize the importance of catching a football, swimming the fastest, jumping the highest, and winning championships. We put athletes on a pedestal and treat them as if they are above the law.
  • We perpetuate rape culture by victim blaming and by asking victims what they were wearing, how much they drank, and digging into their past sexual histories after they’ve survived a sexual assault. When’s the last time someone was mugged and we asked them what they were wearing, how much they drank, and if they’re sure they didn’t “send the wrong signals”?  
  • We’ve created a society where cisgender, white, upper-class, male privilege is so blatantly obvious in our daily lives that we’ve learned to accept it as the norm. We’ve become socialized to this way of life and we’ve become silent about things that matter.
  • We place value on women only because of their roles as wives, daughters, mothers, and grandmothers, as if women only have worth via their relationships with men.

Shes someone

So, yeah. I’m angry.

Sitting here tonight, tears fall for all the ways that we have protected rapists like Brock Turner and for all the ways that we have failed you. You, alone, have worth. You are someone.

So, if you’re reading this and you’re fired up like me, good! You should be. We have to make changes to prevent this from happening in the future.

Call to Action

  • If you think justice was not served and would like to see Judge Aaron Persky removed from the bench for his decision in this case, sign the petition here.
  • Don’t blame the victim survivor. It is never the fault of the survivor. Rape is always100%, without a doubt, caused by the rapist. The survivor did not “ask for it” and it doesn’t matter what they were wearing, how much they had to drink, or what sexual acts they’ve participated in previously. It is always the fault of the rapist.
  • Teach enthusiastic consent to your children, your friends, your siblings, whomever. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. It is vital that we teach consent as an enthusiastic, ongoing “yes” rather than a “no” or silence.
  • Don’t make rape jokes and don’t laugh at them. There’s nothing funny about rape. 1 in 5 women experience sexual assault while in college. It’s no laughing matter.
  • Participate in Take Back the Night rallies and other campaigns meant to bring awareness to the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. Get involved in your community so that you can make a difference.

 

I participated in a Take Back the Night rally when I was an undergraduate student at Texas Woman’s University. I remember walking the streets holding hands with some of my peers chanting, “What do we want? Safe streets on campus! When do we want them? NOW!”

Fast forward, years later. What do I want? To end violence against women and to stop perpetuating rape culture. When do I want it? NOW!

 

What do you think? Join the conversation by commenting below.

Be the change,

Erin

Behind the Shadows: A Side of Homelessness that is often Overlooked

Because it’s graduation season (congratulations, 2016 graduates!), I thought this story was relevant. It is a little outdated, having made national headlines in 2014, but I still think its message is applicable and inspirational today.

Before we get Started

Close your eyes for a minute and envision what an individual experiencing homelessness looks like in your mind.

What did you picture?

If you imagined someone like these individuals, you aren’t alone. A simple Google image search will turn up countless images like the ones below.

My guess is, unless you work with individuals experiencing homelessness, you probably didn’t picture someone like this:

Now watch this video (it’s just over 2 minutes long).

America Strong

Takeaways and Discussion

  • Unfortunately, due to Mr. Furlong’s adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), he is at a statistically significantly higher risk of experiencing another episode of homelessness. That does not mean that I think  he will certainly become homeless again (we’re all rooting for him to overcome the odds), but I do want to shed light on our vulnerable youth who have the deck stacked against them.
    • Additionally, children who are experience homelessness suffer higher rates of the following in comparison to their peers:
      • chronic and acute health problems
      • exposure to violence
      • stress
      • fearfulness
      • depression and anxiety
      • aggressive and antisocial behaviors
    • On any given day, it is estimated that over 200,000 American children do not have a place to call home (Greendoors, 2011).
  • Among industrialized nations, the U.S. has the greatest number of women and children who are classified as homeless.
  • Not all instances of homelessness are caused by mental health and substance abuse. Medical bills and the rising cause of healthcare are often cited as contributing factors of housing instability.

Call to Action

  • I’ve had the unique opportunity to get to work with and for individuals who are experiencing homelessness and those who are moving out of homelessness into transitional housing. If there’s one piece of knowledge I can impart on my readers, it would be the strength and resiliency of these individuals. Their stories are as diverse as they are and I find myself humbled and grateful that they are willing to allow me to play a little part in their lives. All that to say, get involved. You won’t regret it.
    • Volunteer to take part in the Point-in-Time (PIT) Count which happens every January across the nation. It is a coordinated effort to count those living unsheltered in places deemed unfit for human habitation (usually on the streets, behind buildings, and in parks).
    • Volunteer at organizations that serve this population. This could include donating your time working at your local food pantries, soup kitchens, street outreach teams, and anywhere that provides services to individuals experiencing homelessness.
    • Make “Blessing Bags” with essentials and resource information. Carry them in your vehicle and give them out in addition to (use your best judgment) or in lieu of cash to those in need.
      • Blessing Bags I’ve made include:
        • Sunscreen
        • Hand sanitizer
        • Chapstick
        • Deodorant
        • Menstrual pads and/or tampons
        • Meal coupons
        • Restaurant gift cards
        • Socks
        • Hats
        • Non-perishable food items (crackers, granola bars, beef jerky, trail mix, etc.)
        • Instant coffee packets
        • Bottled water
        • Resource guide (Tarrant County puts out a Pocket Pal each year and I carry them in my car. This is the 2016 Pocket Pal so you have an idea of something you could create for your locality.)
  • Confront your own biases and the stereotypes that you hold. Chances are, if you think “all individuals experiencing homelessness are…(insert your word here)”, you’re wrong. I encourage you to pause and use this time for self-reflection. Ask
 yourself
 where
 your
 own
 thoughts 
and
 behaviors
 come
 from
, 
find
 the 
source
 of 
your 
socialization
, 
and address
 your 
misconceptions, 
misinformation, and 
myths
. Re-frame your thoughts,
 re-educate yourself, 
cease
 self‐blame, 
and
 be open to change.
  • Use person-centered and non-discriminatory language. Individuals experiencing homelessness rather than homeless people. A person is not defined by his/her housing status. Removing the labels allows us to connect on the basis that we are all humans. We are all worthy of dignity and respect.
  • Stay informed. Write your legislators and representatives. Be an advocate.

For more information about children and families experiencing homelessness, visit Greendoors 2011. The Pocket Pal was created by the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition (TCHC). Video credit to ABC News.

Have you made Blessing Bags before? If so, what sorts of items did you include? Have you volunteered with organizations serving the homeless population? How can others in your area get involved? Comment below.

Be the change,

Erin

 

Old and on the Street: The Graying of America’s Homeless #AOTD 6/2/16

First Impressions

I struggled when deciding whether or not to use this article as today’s Article of the Day because I don’t feel that it does a great job of accurately depicting individuals experiencing homelessness. Unfortunately, the article reads as if author began his investigation with some negative biases regarding this population. It does, however, address a growing epidemic that does not often make headline news: the ever-changing needs of the homeless population as they age. I wish the author had done a better job of using person-centered language and of informing the audience that individuals experiencing homelessness have their own unique stories and experiences, rather than making generalized statements that perpetuate stereotypes.

Teaser: At some point in the future I’ll be able to share some interesting stories that will hopefully provide you with insight and a new perspective into the diversity of this unique population. I am working on a project with my mentor and some colleagues conducting interviews with individuals moving from homelessness into transitional housing. Using mixed methods (both qualitative and quantitative data), we are attempting to gain insight into the ever-changing needs of the population as well as their unique life experiences, trials, tribulations, goals, supports, strengths, and successes. Words cannot adequately express how humbling it is to hear these stories and the excitement and motivation that I feel working on this project. Expect more to come in the future…

Important Facts and Article Takeaways

  • “There were 306,000 people over 50 living on the streets in 2014, the most recent data available, a 20 percent jump since 2007, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. They [individuals over the age of 50] now make up 31 percent of the nation’s homeless population.” (Nagourney, 2016)
  • “It is the emergence of an older homeless population that is creating daunting challenges for social service agencies and governments already struggling with this crisis of poverty.” (Nagourney, 2016)
  • “We are dealing with the same issues with a 50-year-old that a housed person would have in their 70s, in terms of physical and mental health,” said Anne Miskey, the executive director of the Downtown Women’s Center, which provides services for 3,000 homeless women a year in Los Angeles. “It is extremely difficult. And women are affected more than men.” (Nagourney, 2016)

Link to Today’s Article of The Day

You can find the article here: Old and on the Street: The Graying of America’s Homeless

For additional information, check out The 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress.

Call to Action

  • Confront your own biases and the stereotypes that you hold. Chances are, if you think “all individuals experiencing homelessness are…(insert your word here)”, you’re wrong. I encourage you to pause and use this time for self-reflection. Ask
 yourself
 where
 your
 own
 thoughts 
and
 behaviors
 come
 from
, 
find
 the 
source
 of 
your
socialization
, 
and address
 your 
misconceptions, 
misinformation, and 
myths
. Re-frame your thoughts,
 re-educate yourself, 
cease
 self‐blame, 
and
 be open to change.
  • Use person-centered and non-discriminatory language. Individuals experiencing homelessness rather than homeless people. A person is not defined by his/her housing status. Removing the labels allows us to connect on the basis that we are all humans. We are all worthy of dignity and respect.

What do you think? Comment below.

Be the change,

Erin

Homelessness

Picture credit: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD], 2015. The 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress