“Defining myself as opposed to being defined by others.” – Carol Moseley-Braun
A quote that I think a lot more people need to hear and act on.
My job as a Micah Fellow initially started as being a researcher. The goal for the Prescott Joseph Center has been to build the framework necessary to establish a Family Resource Center in West Oakland. In that fundamental steps would include finding a primary location, hiring permanent local staff, and determining programs that would be offered. One of the most basic actions that would be necessary for going forward with this project would be confronting needs, knowing the people in order to accommodate and treat them to our best abilities. Sure, I had done some research on the community history, current health problems, crime rates, crime types, dropout rates, food availability and poverty levels but that wasn’t enough to tell me who this community was. This community is better than its news stories and statistics, it has character, it has relationships and above all it has beautiful potential. I was lucky enough to go on a home visit with one of the staff member of Another Road to Safety, which is a program we have here at Prescott Joseph that could be compared to Child Protective Services. At Prescott Joseph there are about 20 clients (families) being helped through Another Road to safety. On the house visit the main objective is to check on the family, check on the house and make sure they are keeping up the place and that the children are living in a healthy environment. The particular client that we visited was receiving housing in a gated community for 25 dollars a month along with receiving food allowance and bus/Bart passes to get to work and school. In return this client needed to attend therapy and parenting classes weekly and keep the house clean.
There are many things that I have been thinking about that prepared me for my visit. One thing in particular has been grasping the African American culture in West Oakland, which is something I need to understand and engage in if I want to be able to do my job right. There is one incident that has stayed in my head and has been repeated multiple times. At Prescott Joseph one of the other programs that are available are the Breathmobiles, which are RV type vans that are taken to under privileged neighborhoods and schools where children can get tested for asthma and be treated for that asthma. This is a huge accomplishment because asthma is one of the leading health problems for the population in West Oakland. Visits and treatment are free and there is no limit to how many times you can come. My supervisor explained his frustrations to me when dealing with promoting theBreathmobile to the West Oakland population. People wanted an incentive to go get their children tested and receive free medicine for their child’s asthma. A ridiculous inquiry. Prescott does not benefit from providing these services, yet people want things like magnets, a balloon or pen that will finalize their decision to take advantage of this free resource. So part of my time here has been trying to understand that culture. I don’t know if that culture refers to any specific ethnic group or just the culture of living in poverty, but my supervision emphasizes this toward African Americans living in poverty in West Oakland as being apart of this culture. When I gathered my thoughts I knew I had to engage in the community and see for myself what was going on. For this reason I started volunteering every Saturday at What Now America and took on any extra projects I could get my hands on at work. Before arriving at the clients home I knew I had to be prepared for rejection, not knowing whether or not this client would appreciate or welcome a stranger like me into their home. With all of this in mind I set forth on my first home visit.
To my surprise it was nothing like I thought it would be. I had been over prepared. The client was indifferent about me being there. The meeting went more like a “girls getting coffee” situation. She talked about her struggles and how she was feeling and we gave her advise and encouragement. I learned that we were not very different at all. She may have been a couple years older then I, with a different background and upbringing but we had a lot of the same concerns and struggles. I could understand where she was coming from and I felt like I was just talking to one of my girlfriends. Our client had very low self- esteem, was in desperate need of peer counseling and just wanted a little break from kids being kids (due to lack of discipline and respect for her).
This visit was incredibly helpful to me in determining Family Resource Programs. It became apparent to me how important parenting classes are. “There is no handbook for parenting”, half of parenting comes natural and the other half is learned either by experience or influence. This visit helped me see what this parent was in need of. The problem was not only her lack of knowledge on how to set limits and provide structure in a home that has no consistency but the fact that as children, her kids needs contact, they needed attention and they needed to play. The fact that they were not able to leave the house added to her depression and annoyance. Children need responsibility and they need to have things to do that fill up their day. Providing child care and summer camp activities is beneficial to not only the child but the parent as well.
For now I think that setting up focus groups in nearby neighborhoods would be highly beneficial for me to do to get to know residents better and to ask them personally what they think the needs are in West Oakland and in their own home.