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Great Finish to a Good Year 

By Tim Kean

Thanks to you, 2019 was a positive year for us. With your help, we have grown The Big Idea initiative (relationship-based initiative) to 35 schools in 8 counties. Over 2,000 families are now engaging with their school at least each month in getting to know the teachers and staff. Positive discussions are happening where little or no contact existed before. 60% of families report feeling more connected to their school. 91% of families reported positive interaction with the teachers and staff while attending The Big Idea.

Our Forward STEPS initiative (relationship based in Delaware Co.) has reported conducting 17 Activation Classes with 16 participants, 39 under-resourced family members met with 27 accountability partners as part of 45 weekly community dinners, with 67 kids enrolled in Youth Enrichment. 18 Empowerment Leaders earned raises on their jobs, 22 leaders accomplished 2 or more sustainability goals and 3 Leaders are new home owners. 11 leaders won new jobs or promotions with their current employers and 29 youth earned honor roll status at school.

Our yet-to-be-named, 0-5 initiative (families with kids aged 0-5) is continuing to be crafted with community partnerships and collaboration that will move forward in early 2020. We are excited to engage with families in ways that will help them see and understand their own empowerment as their child’s first teacher. Positive intentional interaction will stimulate brain development and socialization skills that will help set the stage for being ready to start kindergarten. Diapers, baby supplies, books and interactive kits will provide the parent with the much-needed resources for this interaction to become more routine. We will have some pilot programs in place very soon.

We became a member of the National Diaper Bank, securing a steady supply of this much-needed community resource. We distributed over 8 million pounds of food, which was almost 1 million over 2018! Fresh produce was 34% of that total, up half a million pounds over 2018. Our Senior Safety Net initiative (senior food insecurity) is now at 6 locations in 4 counties with expansion plans at 2 more sites in 2 additional counties early in 2020. The Tailgate Distribution (our direct service mobile food program) provided over 2.6 million pounds of products to struggling families in our drive-through format. Endless energy was provided by our 95 agency partners in 8 counties to distribute over 4 million pounds of products to thousands of neighbors. 

Let’s share some statistics and address some myths that we have researched or have been provided to us by Feeding America and our agency partners. Pantries report that a food insecure family visits a food pantry on average 3.2 times per year. Only 10-15 % of families visiting a food pantry visit every time during the year that they are allowed.  Why is that? Many families are bobbing up and down from month to month with enough resources to make ends meet. A life event happens and they may need to visit a pantry for the next 2 months and then not again for 6 more months. Some families are in a chronic economic circumstance that may never change, will need and seek assistance every month. Families may need to visit more than 1 pantry in a month because the average gap that they face in 7 pounds of food per person in the household every week. That means, if you come from a family of 4 people you may need to access 28 pounds of food this week to cover that gap. The average food pantry provides less than 7 pounds of food per person, so a portion of the gap still remains. Next week means another 28 pounds needs to be located. If a pantry allows a family to come once a month and provides less than a family needs, a family may seek assistance at 6 -8 pantries to try and cover the gap. Not only can they be stigmatized for “gaming the system”, they have to use limited precious resources like gas, bus fare or friendships to navigate around town at odd hours and days of limited operations.

A question I am almost always asked when speaking to a group is concerning our Tailgate Distributions (our direct service drive through program), that is “Don’t you think people are accessing food who really don’t need it (cheating the system) because you have no qualifications to receive it?”  My answer is always YES. I qualify my response by saying it’s not a question of if there is abuse, but how much. I spent 30 years in the grocery business before my food bank life and statically there were about 1-2 % of “customers” who were shoplifters. I believe that still holds true today. People have challenged that over the years and I’m fine with that. Believing the number is 5 or 10 or even 20% may say something about someone’s own sad biased view about their fellow human beings, so whatever helps them sleep at night. Even if the extreme number of 20% were true, then 80% would still be there for the right reason. I also relate that families line up at these venues and wait many times for 4 hours or longer with some occasionally spending the night in line. If a family will wait 4 hours to receive some assistance my guess is they need it. I consider that program self-policing. I don’t know anyone personally who’s cheated on their taxes, but I suspect that may still happen and I don’t believe it’s 20%. I sleep very well. Thanks for your support and have a great day!





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New Decade, New Lights!

If you’ve been out to our Warehouse recently, you might have noticed a big change – it’s about three times as well lit! The new lights were installed by Perfect Lighting Solutions over the space of a few days and the difference is sensational.

Before the upgrade, 40% of our warehouse lighting fixtures were at least partially out, and the supply room, where we store our materials and files, only had 5 of 19 lights working. With funding from the Ball Brothers Foundation, and contributions from many staff members to make the project go smoothly, we were able to work with Perfect Lighting Solutions to install over 50 lights in and around our warehouse and nearly 20 lights in our supply room. Our Warehouse staff put in extra hours on the weekends, finding ways to keep the space safely illuminated with the power shut off for the installation. 

The exterior lighting will allow drivers much more security. These lights are also noticeably more energy-efficient, furthering Second Harvest’s sustainability goals. New lighting will allow staff and volunteers to work safely and effectively in our facility to ensure that each community that we serve in East Central Indiana receives the food and resources they need for a better tomorrow.
If you’d like to see the lights in person, come out for a tour of our warehouse to hear about everything we’re doing, or stay to volunteer!  
This post originally went out as part of our First Monday Mailing – if you’d like to get signed up for our First Monday Mailings, click here!
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Increasing Access to Healthy Food, Together

by David McNichols and Tim Kean

Lacking reliable access to sufficient, healthy food is a problem that cuts across all lines – gender, age, race and geography. In Indiana, 1 in 8 people struggle with food insecurity and, within the eight counties served by Second Harvest, nearly 65,000 people – about 15 percent – struggle with this issue every day.

Food insecurity can be more prevalent in rural areas compared to urban areas, which is ironic since rural and farm communities’ productivity provides low-cost wholesome food for consumers.

This situation should not happen in our neighborhoods and to our fellow Hoosiers. But, we also know that this issue is best addressed by working together.

Recently, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Second Harvest announced a collaboration that aims to see people in East Central Indiana free from hunger. Through a three-year commitment from Anthem, Second Harvest will be able to organize 92 Senior Safety Net Distributions and 108 Tailgate Distributions each year. Through these events alone, Second Harvest will be able to provide annually nearly 2.1 million pounds of food – translating to about 1,750,000 meals.

The Senior Safety Net initiative is designed to create an easy-to-access location for seniors to receive nutritious foods. This initiative is intended to have a grocery shopping experience where seniors have a choice in the food they receive. This program has been part of our focus since August of 2016. There are some additional benefits we hope to bring forward in 2020 with the new Anthem partnership. Health and wellness educational topics, along with the socialization of meeting together as community can add value to this important event.

Second Harvest’s Tailgate Program meets people where they live by taking food to a central location in each of the eight counties the food bank serves and local volunteers help load cars as they drive through. This initiative has been part of our focus for over 15 years and positively impacts thousands of families every month. The typical or average experience in each county looks like 300 cars of families or roughly 1,000 people that receive approximately 30,000 pounds of food in about 2 ½ hours. The emphasis for this program has been fresh produce as quantities and varieties vary from month to month.

Anthem has also been using healthy food in its whole-person approach to health care in helping its consumers. The health insurance provider recognizes that access to nutritious food is one of the many factors that plays a significant role in allowing individuals to lead healthier lives. Anthem provides nutritious delivered meals in many of its Medicare Advantage plans to members who recently returned home from a hospital stay, allowing these individuals to focus on their recovery and not worry about cooking. This healthy meal delivery benefit is part of Anthem’s wellness services that also include access to health-related transportation, an allowance for an assistive device, and alternative medicine.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Second Harvest are committed to improving the community we serve and the lives of Hoosiers. Imagine what life could be like for the hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers struggling with food insecurity if they no longer had to worry about reliable access to healthy food. How much better would life be for older adults if they didn’t have to worry about making the choice between healthy food and their medications? Addressing food insecurity will improve lives.

David McNichols is President of Anthem’s Medicare Central Region and is responsible for leading and managing the growth and overall performance of Medicare products – including Medicare Supplement, Medicare Advantage and Part D – in Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.

Tim Kean is the President and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana. The Second Harvest Food Bank network of 95-member agencies, programs and 35 schools provide food assistance and relationship building to more than 65,000 low-income people facing daily instability in Blackford, Delaware, Grant, Henry, Jay, Madison, Randolph and Wabash Counties.

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A New Growth Opportunity is Coming

2020 is soon upon us. It just a little over 10 weeks to January! That’s right, January, not Thanksgiving, which is in 5 weeks. 2020 annual budgets are being finalized by many businesses and organizations. Looking forward may be slightly painful if my 2019 to-do list still has a lot of active items, which it does. The time is short to consider any systematic changes to impact this year. Change is inevitable and on-going. We live in motion every day, so changes continue and new opportunities are discovered that didn’t exist last year.  We will always continue to look for opportunities to partner with other organizations, take bold steps, stretch our abilities and resources to impact under-resourced families.

A brand-new growth opportunity for us is in becoming a Diaper Bank. We are beginning to acquire a steady supply of diapers that will be added to our inventory. Our application to become a member of the National Diaper Bank has been submitted and we anticipate final approval very soon. Sunni Matters, our Director of Long-Term Initiatives, and Allison Snoddy, a community member filled with passion for the topic will both be attending the National Diaper Bank Conference this week in Cincinnati. Allison was a board member with another Diaper Bank located in Indiana before she and her family recently moved to Delaware County. We have asked for membership status as The Diaper Bank of East Central Indiana, which includes all of our 8-county service area. We see this relationship as one of many we are forming as we move forward with our new initiative that is focused on families with children aged 0-5.

We have always had some connection with families that have young children through The Big Idea, Forward STEPS and food distribution initiatives, but we are taking it to a new level with some specific partnerships, pilot programming and some new inventory identified for ages 0-5 children and family members. As we have learned through our engagements with 35 schools and counting in our 8-county service area, the vital achievement of 3rd grade reading level is greatly impacted from what happens with the child at age 0-3 years old. A little over 4 years ago our board and I agreed that we need to be more holistic in our approach to this work. To that end, we have moved forward with what is now Forward S.T.E.P.S. and The Big Idea, focused on relationship building with families that will help identify paths for progress aimed at a self-sustainable life, free of the need for social safety net services.

These initiatives have led the way toward our engagement with young families and new-borns to form relationships that have reading, learning and social development as fundamental milestones before the children engage in pre-school, kindergarten. We know that long-standing trailblazing efforts have been in place in several of our communities such as Born Learning, By5, Early Head-Start and Huffer Memorial just to name a few. We have been in conversations with some for well over a year and are finalizing partnership plans for at least one agency pilot program to roll out in January, 2020.

This long-view look at systemic and generational approaches to family engagement, development and self-sustainability fits well within our team structure to leverage the resources entrusted to us by all the communities we serve. The “Cradle to Career” concept that is championed at By5 is a great over-view for what some of the key elements are to affect change that is long lasting. In our 4th year of living into this holistic ideal, along with our relationship-based staff and logistical strength with community support we are positioned to be a partner organization, a leader or a champion for the long haul.     

Tim Kean, President and CEO

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Seasonal Changes and New Opportunities

I was looking over some of our history as I begin think about planning our budget for 2020. Typing in that year, 2020 seems kind of weird to me. I remember concerns that all computers would crash at the end of 1999, that’s really weird. That also means we are now entering into a new decade, wow, that seems too quick as well, but here we are. More pressing, I am now entering into my Fall Season mentality. I work outside in the yard a lot throughout most of the entire year. It’s funny now that I think about it. I spend 3 months getting things to grow, 4 months trying to keep them alive and looking good, then 2 months cleaning it all up and putting things away and 3 months keeping winter cleaned up and getting things ready to start over again. I enjoy doing each part and Florida wouldn’t offer those same opportunities. The change of season has a ripple effect. It becomes harder to have enough daylight to get the grass cut after work before it gets too dark.

The change of season also affects the food we can access through our donation channels in the food industry. I remember several years ago getting many pallets of popcorn in 50 lb. bags. Those opportunities aren’t around anymore, but that’s ok because they were very hard to find a suitable home. I’m old enough to remember cooking popcorn in a pan on top of the stove, but as a kid, that was a rare treat around our house. I love microwave popcorn! Microwave popcorn is quick, easy, delicious and it comes in its own serving container. Don’t you wish everything was as straight-forward as that. Food consumption habits change with the season and that brings back some items we haven’t seen for a while. As local home grown tomatoes are winding down, too bad, but new crop local apples are ready to harvest.

I recall about 3 years ago, one of the semi loads of donated food we received was a load of Honeycrisp apples. That same week, I happened to see a supermarket ad that featured Honeycrisp apples for $1.99 per lb. I visited a different supermarket that was selling Honeycrisp apples for $3.99 per lb. That load of apples we received had a consumer retail value of roughly over $100,000! That would be similar to receiving a donated semi load of Ground Beef! We were thrilled to get that load and got those delicious apples in the hands of struggling families very quickly. That was possibly the first time many low income families would have tasted a Honeycrisp apple.

Three years ago we were experiencing a lot of growth with a new school initiative and some of those apples were being distributed to the families involved.  At that time we were working with 12 schools in 3 counties. Now, that initiative has been branded The Big Idea and we are working with 35 schools in 8 counties and more are in the future. All our conversations with potential funders, volunteers and school administrations have been positive from the first meetings and popping up all over our 8 county service area like that microwave popcorn I was mentioning. Our opportunities for this initiative are expanding all the time. If you don’t have this initiative already happening or being discussed at your school, start asking some questions. Honeycrisp apples could be coming on the next delivery.

Since this time 3 years ago, we have re-branded our relationship based family initiative to Forward S.T.E.P.S. and have a new focus on under-resourced working families. There were some amazing success stories we witnessed at our most recent graduating class celebration. Video is available if you currently receive our monthly e-newsletter called First Monday. If you would like to receive it send us your email address at foodbank@curehunger.org. In the last 3 years we have also rolled out an initiative called Senior Safety Net, which provides monthly assistance to struggling seniors now at 6 sites in 3 counties. Who knows, in the next 3 years how many new partnerships, coordinated collaborations and initiatives we will be involved in to shorten the line of need? We need your engagement to make that happen.

Tim Kean, President and CEO of Second Harvest

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Generosity Generates Many Benefits

Amazing generosity is hard to describe, but we know it when we experience it. Very recently, we have had the great pleasure of experiencing it in a few different forms. Last Sunday afternoon, my wife and I were invited over to my mother-in-law’s home for a family dinner. My sister-in-law and husband were in from Ft. Wayne. After dinner, my mother-in-law explained she wanted to show me something that she had been making. She showed me a king-size hand-made quilt that she and my sister-in-law hand been working on and off for 2 years to complete. Each square was a depiction of a character or story from the Bible and had an amazing level of detail. She said they had made the quilt for me. I was over-whelmed by their generosity. It will certainly be a wonderful family heirloom. Obviously, everyone knew why we were having the dinner but me.

Last Sunday evening, a private dinner at an Anderson couple’s home was an evening to remember. The dinner, attended by 22 people, was an opportunity to experience great food and wine aimed at raising money for Second Harvest. The 5 course dinner was prepared by Chef Alan Sternberg of Field Brewing and Cerulean fame. This 30-year-old executive Chef is ranked among the top young chefs in the country and was a Rising Star Chef of the Year semifinalist in the 2016 and 2018 James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards. The Winemaker is Jean-Noel Fourmeaux of VGS Chateau Potelle Winery located in Napa Valley, California. The wines were represented and shared by Michel Pascal of the Carroll Wine Company located in Indianapolis. Each course had a special wine selected to compliment the food. The evening was filled with great stories and lots of fun. Several gifts were also sent by those invited, but who were unable to attend. This amazing generosity by the hosts and invitees raised over $50,000 that evening.

Have you ever been on the giving or the receiving end of amazing generosity? Some donors have told me about their experiences with making gifts and how it made them feel. Sometimes there’s public recognition involved and sometimes it’s very quiet.

A comprehensive review of more than 500 studies on why people give conducted by researchers at the University of Notre Dame drew some interesting conclusions. Giving is more common among people who are religious, have higher levels of education, own a home, are married and live in smaller towns…People are more likely to give when they understand the need they are fulfilling and when they can relate to the cause they are supporting. A longitudinal study by researchers at the University of Buffalo found that people who engaged in helping behaviors with their neighbors and friends, such as running errands, cooking meals, or providing child care, reduced their mortality rates compared with those who did not help. And a 2007 study published in the journal Science found donating to a charity activates neural activity in areas of the brain that are linked to reward processing – the same areas that are activated by pleasures like eating and sex.

Giving is Good for You“, Psychology Today Nov. 22, 2017

We are engaging lots of generous people in discussing the reach and impact of our initiatives. The conversation isn’t always about financial support, but can be a number of ways to engage. We have a need for volunteers on a regular basis and opportunities in all 8 counties. We also have needs for specialized talents and career discussions with kids through The Big Idea. Time, talent and treasure are greatly appreciated and can make amazing generosity rewarding for you!   

Tim Kean, President and CEO

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What’s The Big Idea?

A carpenter standing behind a table in the school gym says to a nine year old “This is a picture of a house that I’m building, pointing to some tools on the table he says “these are some of the tools that I’m using”. Then pointing to a certificate he says “This is how I got the training to learn how to do this kind of work”. He says, “I like what I do, it pays well and someone will have a nice place to live when I’m finished. Go ahead, pick up any tool you’d like and see what it feels like”. He might also say, “I lived next door to a carpenter when I was a kid and he let me work with him when I was old enough”.

At the next table, a young woman dressed in her work uniform had a similar conversation with a young girl in the 5th grade about what it’s like to work as an EMT. She has some equipment on the table and offered to let the girl pick it up as she describes some of the ways she helps some very sick people get the immediate medical attention they need. She shows the 5th grader the certificate she got when her training was completed. She has a picture of her and an elderly woman using a walker, which she was able to help who had fallen at home and needed to be rushed to the hospital.

The Second Harvest school initiative has been rebranded “The Big Idea” and we are in the rollout phase with all the schools that have connected with us as school is getting ready to start. We will begin our 4th year with this initiative in August. By the end of this year’s spring semester we had partnered with 29 schools in 8 counties and this fall that number will move up to 35 schools. This initiative is based on relationship building between the families of the school and the school staff. Over time, this positive experience in relationship building has led to increases in student attendance, decreases in incidences of negative student behavior, more parental engagement in school activities, just to name a few.

Ideally, the stage is set with upbeat music playing, greeters at the check-in table, a few community resources at tables to talk with the families such as a healthcare provider, a financial institution, the library or other ready-to- engage providers. A food distribution is also provided. A theme for the evening that might include a focus on book fair, a carnival, movie night or any other creative idea that the school may organize. The opportunity to engage kids and their families with a couple of career-focused interactions each month can be the seeds that plant a career desire in a child’s mind. All this can help a child to consider what they find interesting as a possible career and discover the training path to get there. It could be a post-secondary degree, an employment certification or an apprenticeship.

The Big Idea is designed for kids to dream big about their future stories, for families to encounter resources and relationship with a welcoming school staff that are partners with them to help foster big dreams. Schools viewed as welcoming, safe, fun and nurturing are what attracts and builds community. Our role is to shorten the line of need by providing kids the opportunity to become self-sustaining adults as they grow into “The Big Idea” future they vision as a child. Contact Sunni Matters, our leader of this initiative at 765-287-8698 if you would like to play a role in a child’s future by sharing what you do.

Tim Kean is the President and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana. The Second Harvest Food Bank network of 115-member agencies, programs and 29 schools provide food assistance and relationship building to more than 65,000 low-income people facing daily instability in Blackford, Delaware, Grant, Henry, Jay, Madison, Randolph and Wabash Counties.

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Everyone Needs a Future Story

Planning is underway for our next Forward S.T.E.P.S. graduation that will happen on August 29th here at Second Harvest. If you have never attended one, please put it on your calendar, you could be moved to tears. We have eight families that are currently participating in the Velocity training portion of this total family experience. During the graduation, these adults will be describing their “future story” as part of the outcome of this engagement. Last year we had thirteen family “leaders” who earned raises and four who became new first-time home owners as part of their hard work and perseverance.  There are about fifty people who are attending the weekly evening meeting and meals. We have a strong Youth Enrichment program that engages the families’ children of all ages (0-18), who are a dynamic part of this work. The kids have taken a trip to Ball State recently to get a first-hand look at a major university and engage with some of the faculty. This experience is meaningful for the kids as they continue to consider, discuss and plan their “future story”.

If all we have ever been able to experience as a child is to live in the tyranny of the moment and those moments are dominated by trauma, we may not be able to see past today or even consider the future relevant. Think of it as waking up every day in the “emergency room” of life as a normal activity. Daily questions could be – Will I have a bed to sleep in tonight? Will the electricity be on when we get home? Will there be anything to eat tonight? Will I witness any violence inside or outside my house again tonight? Will I witness more addiction in my family or in the neighborhood? With questions like these or others looming in a child’s head there may be a connection as to why they struggle concentrating in school, struggle relating to a system not designed to work with these challenges or think for a moment about what they could be when they grow up. Lack of a “future story” can keep someone from dreaming, thinking or working toward anything more than what is in front of them every day. Schools do an amazing job with what they’ve been given to work with and my hat is off to the social workers, but it takes the whole family’s engagement along with the community to fully leverage the opportunities with these kids.

It makes no difference whether the adults in the family are part of our Activation, Velocity or Momentum training, the whole family can engage because the Youth Enrichment program is offered all year. Having a number of highly motivated AmeriCorps volunteers to assist with our kids is a true blessing. Kids are able to experience age-appropriate topics that tap into their creative juices with an outlet for expression. This year we have started three clubs as well, the STEAM Club, Reading Club and Spanish Club. We have a young man who is now in college earning a four year degree. Currently someone is in JROTC in high school, another is having success in track and field and learning to code. One has been selected to travel to Europe and visit eleven countries next summer because they excel in the high school band. Other successes are in the making as the younger ones are seeing some great role models that are just a few years older.

This initiative is currently in Delaware County, but we are now looking at the opportunities for expansion of this impactful work in other counties we serve as well. Forward S.T.E.P.S. brings a proven game-changer for motivated families who want to make the decisions to have a brighter “future story”.

Tim Kean is the President and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana. The Second Harvest Food Bank network of 115-member agencies, programs and 29 schools provide food assistance and relationship building to more than 65,000 low-income people facing daily instability in Blackford, Delaware, Grant, Henry, Jay, Madison, Randolph and Wabash Counties.

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Childhood Brain Development Must Be Fed

The new Map the Meal Gap annual report was released on May 4th. This is a national report provided by Feeding America, researched by the Neilson Co. and funded by Howard Buffett, son of Warren Buffett. This report lists food insecurity data by county in every state for the total population and for children. The new report shows another drop in the food insecurity numbers in all of our 8 county service area. The new report shows a total of just over 65,000 people in this 8 county region which is down from over 67,000 the year before. The child food insecurity number dropped from 19,580 to 18,620. Even with this noticeable decline, that number is still approximately 1 in 7 people in our communities and 1 in 5 children. The downward trend has been continuing since the end of the Great Recession when it was over 80,000 people. Barring a meltdown of the economy, I expect to see the number next year drop again. The economy continues to improve, more jobs, less unemployment, employed people migrating upward within their company or moving to a better job with another company all seems so simple, but it’s not.

One of the reasons that it’s not so simple can be that many who struggle just aren’t prepared for job opportunities when they present themselves. This is not just a technical training deficiency, but could also be a lack of knowledge concerning basic soft skills that can trip up a new hire on day 1 or day 2 that prevents them from seeing day 5 on the job. How does someone acquire or develop these soft skills if they weren’t taught at home? If they were taught at home and the child is now an adult, the disconnect could be from the circle of “friends” who may not have much interest in, or place much value in being able to navigate through simple communication that doesn’t offend people.

Parents who struggle often raise kids who will struggle when they become adults. A statistic, but I can’t quote the source that has been shared in some of our trainings offered through our Forward S.T.E.P.S. initiative says that if a child remains under-resourced for more than 8 years, the child is 40% more likely to be under-resourced as an adult. We all have habits influenced by our upbringing that can help or hurt us as we grow to adulthood. Many of us will pass those habits, beliefs and interpersonal skills on to our children whether we intend to or not.

I recently learned that 80% of our complete brain development occurs by age 3. By the time a child starts 1st grade, if they are significantly behind in the areas of development that enable them to learn at the 1st grade level, they may never develop the skill set to learn at the rate that is needed to progress in school successfully. If a child grows up in a negative environment surrounded by yelling, fighting, or illegal behavior, what chance does that child have to successfully navigate through school and become a self-sufficient adult? There are some remarkable exceptions that can be pointed out, but they are just that – remarkable exceptions. Regardless of the money in our pocket, everything we say and do is watched and many times emulated. Living in this neck of the woods is a wonderful experience and an awesome responsibility we can’t take too lightly. Our children are learning every day, the question is what will we teach them today?

by Tim Kean

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Dogs Can Teach Us a Lot

We have two black labs. Ten year old Stella is crippled and eleven year old Macy is blind. They’re both the most loving dogs we’ve ever had. Each has their challenges but they’re doing the best they can. Stella had a hip surgery several years ago and has an enlarged knee with arthritis. She has a funny little waddle when she walks. Macy has always been pretty healthy, but developed a sight problem about 4 years ago and has very limited sight now. She wants to spend as much time inside now as she can. She walks very cautiously and bumps into a lot of things throughout the day. Both approach life with many similarities but with some very specific differences.

As my wife and I live with them, we both agree they have been a blessing to us, but do require different types of interaction. I recently began thinking about how similar I can be to both dogs. Like Macy, there are topics that I could probably navigate through in conversation with someone, but limited knowledge would make me hesitant and cautious. A blind spot on the topic would leave me feeling a bit paralyzed or set me up for crashing into someone with a viewpoint that may cause hurt feelings or even break the relationship. I also sense that others may experience the same potential negative engagement, but it doesn’t keep them from saying whatever pops in their head without much regard to how it may be received. As I have the opportunity to engage lots of people in this role, I frequently hear statements from people that are clearly coming from a blind spot. If someone has never experienced abundant resources or the lack of resources, it may seem to be a simple subject that should have a quick and simple conclusion. It is neither. Judgement about others is very easy to express and hard to retract. We can and do teach it to our children whether it’s intentional or not.

Like Stella, I may have my sight intact, but struggle with mobility and pain. I may be resentful of what I see going on around me when it feels like everyone else is getting ahead and I’m missing out. I may assume that people are taking shortcuts to gain an unfair advantage at my expense because they are just unwilling to work as hard as necessary. The real question may be more about whether I’m willing to try harder than how other people are progressing. Maybe I’m trying to justify my own poor work ethic to explain my limited upward mobility. Work ethic is a very interesting topic for conversation. Everyone I’ve met has a viewpoint on what work ethic means and can cite examples of both good and poor ones they’ve encountered.  Someone once told me that my work ethic is what I am willing to do when no one is watching. Work ethic is also something we teach our children whether intentional or not. I see what appears to be both good and poor examples of work ethic that really don’t have much relevance to how much money a person has or how much they may be struggling to make ends meet, but without facts can potentially lead me to judgement.

Just as dogs love unconditionally, I know I’m called to do that as well. I’ve never experienced a day that our dogs didn’t lavish love over me when I get home. Dogs have figured out a way to keep life simple and uncluttered. Granted, they don’t have to figure out a way to improve the bottom line for their investors or shorten the line of need in their community, but they can and do bring joy to the people they are with and that’s an example from which we can all learn.

 by Tim Kean

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