Thursday, June 27, 2013

The End of the World in a Child's Eyes

A Powerful Way a 14-year-old Looks At the World's End

Dear readers: I couldn't resist publishing this one. Written by 14-year-old Veronica Gray, she has a way of painting the world's end as beautiful. You will have to decide for yourself.  -- Diana

Senses Fail

By Veronica Gray
(c) 2013

 I woke up today and it was the end of the world. My bed was floating in the air. My house was gone. I jumped off and flew around. It was dark but I could see everything. The wind blew against my face. My hair was slapping into my face poking its way into my mouth. I flew against the wind traveling the town.

I could see a silhouette of people in their homes. But they were paused just doing whatever they were doing. I pushed harder and I ended up downtown. I see people in their car or walking up and down the street, but they weren't moving. My watch said: 3:33 a.m.

Then I stopped.The moon exploded into millions of neon blue lights, dancing and falling toward the ground covering everything as if there was snow. I touched the floor and the lights were moving and buzzing. One hopped up and shot down the street. Then another. Then another. I was flying with them. 

They led me to the beach. There were more of different colors, mixing and soaring together, crashing into each other. I laughed and they stopped and they all rushed around me knocking me to the ground.

When I finally crawled out of their attack, I flew down the shore until I reached a big boat. I went to the boat and settled down. The stars were so bright, twinkling in the moonless sky.

I laid on the deck of the boat looking up at the marvelous stars. One fell and crashed into an office building. It immediately caught flames. Then one more fell into the ocean.  A huge wave was created and the swell made the boat rock. The boat started moving west until I couldn't see the shore.

Then we didn't move anymore but the boat still tried to run from the falling stars. I looked over the edge and there was nothing. No more water.  I felt oddly safe in nothing and I fell asleep dreaming that I sailed to the edge of the world to watch the stars fall down.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Residents Write in About the Homeless

Residents Respond to Homeless Con Artist Story

By Diana L. Chapman

About a week ago, I wrote a story about my confusion on how to deal with homeless asking for money.

The trouble: who is homeless and who is pretending to be?

After witnessing con artists take advantage of my unfortunately generous and believing nature, I penned an article about my experiences, which included a woman asking for food at a Starbucks (which I got her) and then leaving as a passenger in a brand new Cadillac Escalade. Then there was a guy who asked for 50 cents to catch the bus. I eagerly gave it to him.

In turn, the man promptly approached another customer leaving a CVS store.

"Can you give me 50 cents for the bus," he asked  -- again.

While these fake homeless march around Los Angeles collecting droves of cash, there are 51,000 true homeless in Los Angeles county living on the streets, according to the 2011 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count Report.

One answer to avoid the sham came from Mary Gimenez-Caulder, the former director of Harbor Interfaith Services that provides shelter to the destitute. She recommends people direct those begging on the street to area shelters.

Here is what our readers had to say:

·        --I've been meaning to write and tell you that your latest Underdog article was spot-on and has really stayed with me.  It's as if you were privy to the debate that's been going on in my head over this for the last 20+ years.
I think the suggestion to try to re-direct people to an effective Community outreach program is great advice.  Still, a person with a pet (particularly a woman) will get $$ out of me every time. 

I've stopped eating lunch in my car when I'm on work assignments, because it's a given that I'll be approached by a man asking for money (often it feels like a near stick-up/shakedown). -- M. Danko

·        The answer I have arrived at is "Only give to those you know."  Really, it's rather like Warren Buffett's "only invest in businesses you understand".  Look around.  Most of us have friends in need, and often too proud to ask.  (If you do not have any friends who are in need, you need to get out more).  Know where your gift is going.  Charity begins in the village.  I give where I know it will be well used.

 The reality is that panhandling is incredibly profitable.  Many of those folks are supporting drug habits the cost of which would amaze you.  Spend your charity wisely.  -- John Mattson

·        --Any of us, without a shower for a week and wearing the same clothes, will look homeless and smell that way.  And just by losing your job that person can be you.

The chronically homeless, however, for the most part want to be that way and resist “rescue.”  Especially the veterans, as not a single one of them needs to be homeless unless they wish to be, thanks to the Veteran's Administration.

Before Reagan threw them out for “community care,” many of these folk were in mental institutions, where many of them need to be today, suffering from congenital problems, the shock of war or extended substance abuse.  

And for some, it is a business. In Washington, DC, where I came from, the main newspaper did a story on homeless begging on downtown street corners.  No aggressive pitch, just a sign and a cup.  It turned out that they were bringing in between $120K and $160K a year.  Not a bad business.

I am all for helping the legitimate homeless get on their feet and back into society with our aid.  I am not willing to perpetuate homelessness for those who chose not to be “saved,” but for whatever reason want to live on the margins. 

I am generally in favor of “direct charity,” cutting out the middle man (or woman) who is making money for themselves out of charity to institutions.  But when it comes to chronic homelessness, real or not, that direct form of charity seems to be counter-productive. -- Kim Stevens

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

When to Give to the Homeless

When to Give to the Homeless and When Not To? I Guess I'll Never Learn

By Diana L. Chapman

I was writing at the Starbucks on Fifth Street in San Pedro when a woman wandered in.

She walked boldly up to me, explaining that she and her son were hungry. Would I be willing to get them something, maybe a bit of food? In my mind I've conjured up the son as a little, 5-year-old boy and am ready to buy them anything they want.

For the most part, I've made it a rule not to give cash, but I will typically buy food and coffee for those living on the street.

The woman was nice and asked each time if she could order a frappe and then another one, and a sandwich, and then another one ("Is that ok?") and when the bill was nearly $11 and paid, I planted myself firmly back down at my table to keep writing figuring I did my good deed for the day.  But then I remembered I'd left something in my car.

It was then that I got a full-in-the-face punch about the realities of life. Things are not always what they seem.  And of course, that is the truth in this story.

As I went to the lot, I spotted the "homeless" (my word, not hers) woman sitting in the passenger seat of a brand new Cadillac Escalade with another woman driving and the young man, the son, in the back appearing to be about 20. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. And ouch again. I'm not complaining.

This was completely my fault. The woman never once told me she was homeless. I just assumed it. And come to think of it, she wasn't dressed that badly, either. My guilt and shame to help the homeless comes perhaps from the large number living in Los Angeles County even though the numbers are down. The destitute are often so hard to help.

There are about 51,340 homeless in Los Angeles County and nearly half of them live in the city of  Los Angeles, according to the 2011 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count Report.

Even sadder: the statistics as to who is homeless. Thirty-three percent suffer from mental illness, 22 percent are physically disabled and 34 percent are substance abusers or have more than one of those troubles combined, the report states.

More disheartening: about 18 percent are veterans who are chronically homeless. Veterans, in my book, should never be homeless. They are the band of people who keep us free.

The astounding homeless report was done from Jan. 25-Jan. 27 2011 where 4,000 dedicated volunteers, under the guidance of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, fanned out and started counting. The project covered more than 4,000 square miles and counted each homeless person one by one.

What I am finding so disturbing are the fake homeless folks.

The trouble I was telling Mary Gimenez-Caulder, the former director of Harbor Interfaith Services that provides shelter to homeless, is there are so many con artists pretending to be destitute -- and the flip side of that are the many people who want to aid even in small ways, buying a cup of coffee, getting them some food.

That is why, Mary says, she passes out Harbor Interfaith information to the homeless where they can receive good care and be aligned with the many available resources in the community. A cup of coffee is fine or a bit of food, but that's not even a band aid, she explains. Providing funds directly to shelters such as Harbor Interfaith ensures the money will be used directly for those in need -- and not by con artists.

"When people ask me for money," she explained, "I'll say that I'm sorry and give them the name of Harbor Interfaith. We have to help them off the street. Otherwise, it's perpetual."

But because her heart and compassion are so wrapped (and have been for years)  in helping the homeless, even she will buy food on the weekends, "when everything is closed."

Like Mary, I always have had a heart for the homeless. This is true because I believe anyone can slip into the swirls of dark and dank poverty no matter who they are. It's that whole "There, but for the grace of God go I," thing. It haunts me and reminds me I am lucky to have a decent home and live with a great family and had parents who worked hard to take care of us. Having met so many people in my life trying to come up out of poverty, I know I am blessed. In fact, I am more than blessed.

But I remain troubled that people are faking poverty to get money from those who are generous.

How, I asked her, do you know between the con and the homeless? She replied "When you get in the field, you get a sixth sense."

The problem is: I don't have a sixth sense.  At least, not yet.

For instance, I rolled out of a CVS drug store perched along Gaffey Street where dozens of cars streamed by  on this unusually warm day. In fact, it seemed oppressive and clammy.

A man wandered up and asked: "Mam, could you please give me 50 cents for bus fare?"

A sucker is born every minute and I am one of them.

"Of course," I said, scrambling to open my wallet to find the coins. After all, this guy just needs a bus ride. That seemed hardly generous.

I dropped the coins in his hand and he blessed me.  But I hardly was in my car when I saw the man go up to another shopper. "Please sir, do you have 50 cents so I can catch the bus?"

On another front, I had to learn how my compassion could hurt others. I was outside a San Pedro restaurant when a homeless guy asked for a cup of coffee. I raced in to purchase it and came out with the drink in hand. When I came back in, the owner asked me not to do it again. The homeless were killing his business, he said, blocking off the entryway to his diner and making his customers uncomfortable.

That thought never occurred to me, I am sad to say. I respected his request, but still kept on giving.

Clearly, what I'm learning is there are those without homes and then there are those who figured how to make money off those people's backs by pretending they are.

Sad. True and then there's perception.

With the family in the new Escalade, Mary pointed out, I didn't know exactly what happened. One time, her former organization found a Torrance mother with her three children living in a brand new Volvo.

"She was a single mother," and had lost her job in computer technology. The shelter helped them get back on their feet, Mary explained.

OK, so I got that. Still working on the word: discernment.

In the last few months, discernment was easy.

Coming out of a Starbucks in the pouring rain, a man sat at table with heavy coats on as streams of water rolled off him. His plastic bag wasn't making a bit of difference. He was soaked and chilled to the bone. It seemed like author Charles Dickens, the 19th century author famed for his works about the poor, would be calling out our names saying "Do something." The man said he just wanted a cup of coffee.

I handed him money to get some. If anyone had gone that far to fake they were homeless, they deserved it.

I also respected a woman and her daughter who also were impoverished, but not homeless. They wanted to wash my car windows. The windows had  just been cleaned that day, so instead I gave them a couple of bucks. They were proud to be working. They also had two dogs to feed,  the loves of their lives,  a pit bull and a collie. They were spilling over with thank yous and gratitude so much o  made my heart warm. They were so proud of their dogs, and they talked about them profusely. I think one was named "Beauty."

Giving those women a helping hand was worth it.

But in a Von's parking lot recently, a man approached for money because he didn't have enough food.

I said: "Really, because I don't know who is homeless and there are a lot of cons." He told me I had to learn how to cut off the cons.

"You shouldn't be so nice," he said. "That's what I do."

Right then, a lady drove up waving $2 from her car window. I left that guy in the dust. There was no question that he was working us. That's why he was so savvy at explaining just say "no."

Perhaps that sixth sense finally is taking root.

To donate to the homeless, look up an agency near you.  To learn more about Harbor Interfaith go to It is the only South Bay area shelter specifically dealing with homeless families. It's located at 670 W. 9th Street, San Pedro, (310) 831-0603.

Friday, June 07, 2013

A Starbuck's Manager Tells High School Students How to Get Jobs

A Starbuck's Queen Visits San Pedro High School to Teach Kids How to Hook Jobs; She Receives Rave Reviews From Students and the School's College Counselor

By Diana L. Chapman
Starbucks manager Becky Hardin at SP High
How not to get a job at Starbucks or probably anywhere: One young man turned in an excellent application (Good.) Stopped in to visit the manager (Very good.) But came in to see the manager pouring in sweat and wearing gym gear (Bad.)

Very bad. That was one story Becky Hardin, a Starbuck's manager who represents the  25th Street and Western Avenue store, shared with juniors and seniors at San Pedro High last month to teach them job and interviewing skills -- and how to land work at the wildly successful coffee houses while going to college. That sweating young man did not land an interview, she said.

For one hour, Becky had nearly two dozen students mesmerized. No one whispered or talked out of turn. No one interrupted. The youths peered forward at the animated woman who was training them how to snatch a Starbuck's job while going to college -- or elsewhere. As students complained they could not get work because they lacked experience or had been turned down numerous times, Becky suggested looking at finding jobs in a different light.

"You should feel empowered to shop for your own job too," Becky explained and make sure you are a match. "Know you are valuable and you have a lot to offer. As you are being interviewed, you should be interviewing them too."

But that's not all the San Pedro Starbuck's manager told them. She offered up many concepts about interviewing techniques and added that they needed to include their community experiences in their resumes and applications "because that paints a picture of you. That is the stuff we want to see. Are you in clubs? Do you volunteer? Do you babysit? Those are life skills that will help you.

Don't sell yourself short."

Upfront, Becky told students while she "loved" her job and that the company has excellent benefits for its "partners," she added Starbucks comes with intensely hard work complete with many demanding challenges. That includes the memorization of 87,000 drink combinations, the ability to remain friendly in the often frantic paced stores and "to sell, sell, sell."

"We like to hire hungry, dedicated partners," she said, employees who will "take one for the team," when a bathroom has been "exploded on" and it becomes a cleanup project for several partners, including managers.

The manager encouraged students to study the way a company works and learn how employees dress. That, she said, is the biggest indicator how one should dress for a job interview. At Starbucks, "dress the part." Come wearing khaki pants and a nice shirt. Bring a resume. Ask to see the manager and if it's a bad time, ask when "is a good time is to come back."

Besides that, think what work matches your personality.

"If you hate dressing up and wearing ties, then don't work in a bank," she said.

For women, she warned, who have long, manicured nails, that's not possible to have at a Starbuck's job due to health code regulations.

The tips seemed to resonate with the youth and the school's college counselor.

"The workshop was fabulous," said Valerie Armstrong, the counselor. "Becky is such an engaging speaker, and the students learned how to present themselves in a positive way when applying for jobs. This is the type of real-world advice they need and they heard it from a very credible source."

Other suggestions the manager made was:

-- "Weed out" any sense of desperation and never take a job because of it. That only leaves both the employee and the manager unhappy.

--"Scope" out Starbucks or anywhere else you might be interested in working and see how the store operates. Each store has its own culture. At Becky's 25th Street and Western Avenue store, the culture is "loud." Her partners sing, laugh and tell jokes. But other stores can be more subdued.  It is "crucial," to find a match.

--Look for jobs where the staff is treated well. "If you get a manager with any company who is just rude to you, do you really want to work for him?"

--Hundreds of email applications pour constantly in to Starbucks managers from people who are looking to become baristas, which is why it's so important to make a personal contact.

--Persistence, she added, "often opens the doors."

 Students who attended the after school meeting said they were pleased with the speaker saying her presentation and enthusiasm for her work taught them how to master the maze of interviewing skills going way beyond just Starbucks.

"This was universal and will help with any job out there," said soon-to-be-a junior, 15-year-old Ernesto Hernandez. "I learned so much from this. She was a great speaker and the story she tells makes it more awesome. She really pushed out there that you have to be willing to work hard and be trustworthy."

College Bound Christopher Tate, 17, a junior, said after the workshop: "This was really worth it. It helped me a lot. I work really hard and I'm pretty good at learning. I also learned you have to be prepared because you might get an interview on the spot.

"I think it fits me."

In addition, students also said they were attracted by Starbuck's benefits. Some of those include:

--Hiring people, some without experience, where they will receive paid training at $8.35 an hour. The pays remains the same once starting, but will include weekly tips.

--Starbucks encourages and works with college students schedules and allows baristas to transfer to other locations if needed. In some cases, Starbucks will pay between $500 to $1,000 in college tuition fees and for some classes.

--Full health benefits (dental, medical and vision) with 24 hours or more.

--Partners  receive free drinks while at work and 30 percent off all store merchandise, including food and beverages.

--Stocks are provided to many eligible partners to ensure that "partners" have a stake Starbuck's financial success.

If one gains the opportunity  to become a Starbucks barista and go through the training, mistakes will be made, Becky added. The "training process is grinding," the manager said, and once completed, "we throw them to the wolves. It's baptism by fire." But she added, "you've been trained to deliver successful results."

Don't be afraid of making mistakes. "It happens."

When Becky first started working at a drive through, she had "12 cars stacked deep." On the counter, she had all the drinks ready to go but when she turned the drinks flew to the floor. It "wiped out every single drink."

"My manager said: "Clean it up."  You will do stupid things like that. It takes about six months for you to feel solid," the manager explained.

Student Rodvidna "Robbin" Colquitt said she's been trying to get a job at Starbucks but didn't know how.

"This helped me because I've been trying to work for Starbucks," said student Rodvidna "Robbin" Colquitt, 16. "I am so glad I came."