Dennis Cardiff

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Author Dennis Cardiff lives in Ottawa, Canada, with his wife, two sons and two stepsons. Working in the mailroom of an international law firm allows a lot of free time for him to write and do research on the Internet.

An artist of many talents, Cardiff has been a professional portrait painter since 1972. He studied art at the Ontario College of Art, University of Saskatchewan and the University of Ottawa. As a writer, his poetry has been published in the Sheaf, the University of Saskatchewan’s newspaper, the Writing.com Anthology and an online poetry magazine, Shadowlands Express. His recent book “Gotta Find a Home: Conversations with Street People” (book 1 of 4) was published by Karenzo Media. Books 2 and 3 are currently at tGotta Find a Home 7658782he publishers, and the 4th book of the series will be available in January 2015.

Have you always written?
In school, I always wrote extensive notes in class. I especially enjoyed subjects where I was required to do illustrations, maps or diagrams. At exam time, I could recall entire pages from my notes, especially in history.

In grade eight, I won a city-wide essay contest sponsored by the . . . (Read Full Article)

 

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At-Risk Youths

images year up

 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections report for 2012 – 2022, “Occupations that typically require post-secondary education for entry are expected, on average, to grow faster than occupations that require a high school diploma or less.” About 20.4 million new jobs will be available over this period. The report goes on to say that wages are higher for those with bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees — averaging about $60,000 a year. Yet, it is estimated that 14 million of these higher-level positions will go unfilled due to the post-secondary educational requirements.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There is a large part of the population that is being neglected and ignored in our society.  It is common knowledge that low-income, urban young adults will never have the chance that their middle- to upper-class peers do when they graduate high school. Problems dealing with violence in school, problems at home, money issues, hunger, suicide, gang-related killings and substance abuse all weigh in heavily on these children in America. Sometimes just surviving day to day is all they can manage. Possibly one in three of these youths could end up with hood disease — a moniker given to inner-city kids with PTSD. If they do survive school and graduate, the employment prospects are pretty grim. According to Huffington Post, “Almost 6 million young people are neither in school nor working.”

It’s almost ironic that so many jobs will be available, but many young people remain unemployed for lack of qualification and/or training. So many are hungry for a chance, eager to make a place for themselves in the world, yet there is so little opportunity afforded them.

However, there is a chance for some through the social entrepreneurial company Year Up.  This organization understood that these young people could rise to higher expectations if the right situation presented itself. Flyers were sent out, inviting at-risk youths to apply.  The offer was this: Have a high school diploma or GED, show up for one year, learn skills in the financial field or in IT, get up to 23 college credits, and a stipend for expenses, work one-on-one with a mentor, and possibly hold an internship with a major company.

Social workers are on staff to help with private issues that may be insurmountable for someone so young; social skills in the workplace are taught so that the students will be able to function in a business social environment with grace and diplomacy.

The company has had spectacular results since it opened in 2000. They have served 8,500 young adults, and have provided interns for 250 corporate partners. Eighty-five percent of graduates are employed or attending college within four months of completing the program. Employed Year Up graduates earn an average of $15 per hour — the equivalent of $30,000 per year, and go up to $50,000 a year or more.

Companies like JP Morgan, which were once reluctant to take on these newly trained interns, are now eager to have them on board, and pay up to $23,000 for each intern at their company. Other corporate partners include Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Boston Children’s Hospital, American Express, The Huffington Post, Twitter and many others.

The “Each One — Teach One” Model

There is an incredible place in the United States, where some people are able to leave the depths of their despair, which has become the cyclic norm in their lives. These are murderers, thieves, people who sell their children for a fix, those whose lives consist of bouncing in and out of prison for ten or twenty years — or maybe for life. If they are some of the lucky few of the roughly 2.4 million people incarcerated in America, they’ve heard of a place where people can change, live a life of prosperity, and join the ranks of what might be construed as a “normal society.” This idea is only a fantasy to some of them — an unknown place over the rainbow because their version of normal is only what they’ve known their lives to be thus far.

This special place is called Delancey Street, “Where Hitting the Bottom, Begins the Climb to New Heights.” Mimi Silbert, CEO, president and founder, is a powerhouse of positive energy that she shares with everyone she meets. She has helped over 18,000 people overcome poverty, crime and substance abuse addiction through her working business model. There is no paid staff at this two- to four-year program for the underprivileged, and it is considered the most successful rehabilitation program in America.

Silbert came up with the idea when she worked as a prison therapist. One of the appreciative inmates stopped her on her way out the door one day and said that her advice was so helpful. Silbert’s philosophy is simple: she believes that there aren’t any bad people and there aren’t any good people — people are a mix of both. It is that positive belief that all people can pull themselves up, learn family values, learn cooperation, respect, and the skills needed to work within a society, that makes her model successful. They learn how to be positive team players. As soon as they walk through the door, they are told to leave their past behind because they are now working toward their future and their success.

The Delancey Street Foundation has a 91 percent success rate with six campuses across the U.S. To achieve this rate of success in a place with no help from the government and no paid staff, Silbert starts her program by teaching the basic skills: reading, writing, arithmetic, social interaction, and most important self-respect. She says, “It takes about two years for someone to stop judging and hating themselves, and believe they have actually earned who they have become.” They have to get through high school exams, learn three marketable skills, and it takes about four years to go through the whole program. Many of the graduates ask to stay on.

The question might arise, how does someone train more than 18,000 people without paid employees? Silbert started her project in 1971 with just four people in an apartment, a 1,000 loan and an idea based on cooperative family-type principles. People who held jobs outside the home would contribute money to the business. They carried that idea further; if someone could cook, they would run the kitchen; if someone knew construction, they would be in charge of building and fixing things, and so on. As they brought in more people, those who were established in the program would teach the newcomers. Those people would teach the next group that came in.  Within two years, they were able to buy their first building in the poshest neighborhood, Pacific Heights, and had 80 residents all living together and helping each other. Because of their locale, there was a problem with the neighbors who weren’t so keen on having criminals living next door. Silbert solved the problem by starting a neighborhood watch and volunteering the services of the residents living there — crime levels dropped. The building was remodeled by the construction crew to keep property values current or better. To raise funds for the reconstruction, the group sold raffle tickets in the neighborhood promising they would “not move next door to you.” Almost 20 years later, when they finally moved to their newly self-built housing on the waterfront, their humor and good neighbor attitudes had won everyone over, and the Pacific Heights neighbors were now sorry to see them leave.

Silbert’s model works because she focuses on what people “can do” not what they’ve been through, how they were raised, or where they’ve resided in the past for whatever crimes they may have committed. All that is left at the door when they step through the portal to this new world that they have only heard about or have seen on TV. They learn that they can change, they can trust people, and they can be responsible, which in turn builds self-respect and self-esteem based on whom they have become.

The Delancey Street project has grown through businesses run by these people who once felt they had nothing to contribute. The cornerstone business was a fine dining establishment. The community has grown to include a café – bookstore, catering, private corporate car service, digital printing, specialty advertising, handicrafts, landscaping, a moving and trucking company, a paratransit service, a movie screening room, and selling Christmas trees and a decoration service.

Foundation is the perfect classification for this business. How many lives have been changed by the strong foundation that Mimi Silbert has provided for these individuals?  How many more of the 2.4 million people, struggling in a life that seems devoid of hope, could be changed by her model project?

Tiny Homes for the Homeless

Brian Reynold's Photo for Kloehn

Photo Credit: Brian Reynolds

There is an estimated 1,750,000 people with no place to live as of June of 2013 in the U.S. Think of how their lives would change if they had a little house to come home to every night—a place of shelter from the weather, protection from thugs on the street, and some place they could call their own. This is the dream of artist-architect Gregory Kloehn.  He builds little tiny homes for the homeless. Featured on Rachel Ray, Inside Edition and Huffinton Post, Kloehn got the idea from his own challenge to renovate a dumpster to live in. The adorable dumpster is fully functional with a kitchen, bed, potty, shower, a deck up top complete with umbrella, and an awning.

Building the dumpster kindled the joy he had as a child building his creations.  Kloehn writes,

There is a spontaneity and playfulness in making small homes that traditional houses do not offer.  It reminds me of making forts as a kid, no city planners, no architects, no crews, no bank loans, just my ideas and my hands.” His love of helping people was naturally the next step in this passion of his. He started building tiny homes for homeless people in his neighborhood.

Tiny houses are not a new concept in our culture. With real estate far out of the reach for the average person now, people are looking for alternative housing ideas. What sets this idea apart from an average tiny house is that they are given away for free to the people in our country who need the most help. Here are some thoughts from Kloehn on why he is so excited.

Tiny houses are striking a number of cords in our society. They are not just homes but fast becoming a lifestyle option. They are, usually, (but not always)  cheaper than regular homes, giving more people the opportunity of ownership. By skipping the traditional 30-year mortgage, perhaps the tiny home movement could even reshape the way we think about work and what we want to accomplish with our lives.

The tiny home movement is also embracing and mixing all forms of new and old technologies, making them hotbeds of ingenuity, creativity, and environmentalism. Small spaces means that it’s easier to power an entire house with the sun or wind, and water can be collected, used, used again and reused with simple catch and filtration systems. Even black waste can be turned into methane and/or composite for food production. From the loner in a simple tipi, to the high-tech self-contained living pod, the tiny homes have something for everyone.

Many of the tiny homes are on wheels or small enough to be moved with relative ease. I think this degree of mobility is one of the most revolutionary aspects of the tiny home movement; what if you bought or built the home you wanted, then rented the land. Your customized home could follow you wherever you needed to be. If you built a home that followed you throughout your life, I bet you would be a bit more thoughtful in your choices.

With these little houses for the homeless, portability is essential because the city will make a homeless person move every few weeks. You can see the wheels in the photo (above) from photographer Brian Reynolds.

Another perk to this tiny home project is that Kloehn is cleaning up his neighborhood by working almost exclusively with recycled materials. He uses abandon wood, bed frames, futon frames, solid doors, auto glass … anything that might work to build up a tiny house. Most of the items are found. Some of them are donated by businesses. For the parts that can’t be found through recycling, Kloehn is relying on donations from the public. He’s hoping the idea catches on so that other people will build homes for the homeless. With this idea in mind, he is willing to travel to teach workshops on how to build these for anyone who wants to help. They only take a little more than a week to construct.

It might not be a perfect solution, but one thing is certain, social entrepreneurs like Kloehn are going to have some of the answers for the problems that have been plaguing our society. It is these creative minds with a strong educational background who are going to bring back the hopes and dreams that seem to have slipped away for a great deal of people in our country. Wouldn’t it be great if Landesa could find some micro-acreage for tiny homes, and if HandUp could help with supplies, and if Kloehn’s tiny houses could be established then … maybe, just by having a place to put their heads at night,  a place to keep warm on a cold winter’s day, a little place they could call home—these forgotten people in our country wouldn’t feel so homeless anymore.

 

Landesa – Fighting Poverty Acre by Acre

 

Half of the world’s population — 2.8 billion — lives on less than $2 a day. And 70 percent of those live in rural areas where agriculture is the only means to survive. For
those that own land, life is good. Land ownership can provide housing, warmth, comfort, food, good health, stable conditions to bring up a family, access to credit and a place of status within a community. For those that don’t own land, it is a day-to-daylandesa struggle just to stay alive. If people are fortunate enough to find work in agriculture, they are working for someone else to gain the profits of their labor, leaving them with a lot of time and effort for someone else’s benefit. The land situation is worse for women. Women hold less status than men do in many of these places. They are not allowed to own land, even if it is passed down through inheritance within the family.

This is where president and CEO Tim Hanstad of Landesa enters into the picture. Hanstad, following in the footsteps of Landesa’s founder Roy Prosterman, tackles this problem at the government level. He establishes a working relationship with various world governments, trying to change the laws that inhibit women and men from obtaining land or keeping the land they have. Field surveys are taken in rural districts of China, Africa and India to find out exactly what the situation is with the poor who are living there, and if they have or have ever had access to owning their own land. Then, time is spent researching the current laws in those areas to see where changes could be made to improve the lives of those who are so desperately in need. In doing so, it is possible to help whole communities of people rather than working with each individual at a time.

The idea is simple. In just one tenth of an acre of land, a family can have a home and enough space left over to grow fruits and vegetables for the family to eat year-round. Any excess could be sold at market. This small parcel would be cheap enough for governments to secure enough micro-acreage to give to many of the poorest people in their nation. So far, Landesa has helped 100 million families secure land and escape poverty. Their main focus is for women to secure or keep land and in the inheritance rights of girls.

According to the Schwab Foundation, since, Hanstad joined Landesa in the 1980s, the company “has grown 100-fold, opened eight new offices in Asia and Africa and has generated tens of millions of dollars of earned income.” Hanstad has been recognized as “Social Entrepreneur of the Year” by the Schwab Foundation and in 2012 by the Skoll Foundation.