Thursday, March 27, 2008

Its been a long couple of weeks

I've gotten a little behind on my updates after a couple of crazy weeks.

For St. Patrick's Day I celebrated by heading down to the Indianapolis Canal. The canal cuts through the middle of down town, shedding ambiance and elegance on the court building, historical society and several college apartment complexes. Apparently if you wanted to you could walk the 10 miles from down town to my job, as it runs unobstructed through the city. In honor of Indianapolis' Irish roots each year they begin St. Pats by dyeing the canal a translucent shade of green. The ducks don't seem to notice the difference but the green canal is difficult to miss.

I read an article that mentioned that for the first time n many years they cleaned the canal before the dying ceremony and found two bowling balls, 8 cell phones and an engagement bank. I'm surprised the canal wasn't green before the dye went in.

I took pictures that are still on my camera, once I upload them I will send the out.

As a VISTA one of my tasks is to learn about poverty, in essence by experiencing it for a year should help develop ways to combat it as best I can, even if that is simply by keeping an open mind. Because VISTA's receive a small subsistence allowance, we qualify for food stamps and it is recommended we take advantage of that opportunity. Now settled in I decided last week to begin the process.

Online it looks simple enough. You download the application, fill it out, and return it to your local welfare office. In 30 days you should receive a notice in the mail informing you if you qualify or not. I attempted to download the application, which didn't work, and knowing that since a lot of people don't have the ability to print the application anyways I headed off one afternoon to the nearest welfare office.

When entering the building you are directed to a large waiting room, full of uncomfortable plastic chairs. The 'GateKeepers' sit at a desk labeled information, next to another woman with a 'return forms here sign'. When asking the Gatekeepers were I should pick up the needed paperwork they directed me to a neighboring table full of forms for any kind of request. Of course the form I needed didn't happen to be on the table and they called me back after a few moments of confusion to give me the form that they were stapling when I asked for it.

It took about 15 minutes to put all my information in and I got in line at the return forms here table. Oddly enough that woman didn't want my form and I needed to return it to the un-informational information desk. The Gatekeepers asked me if I wanted to schedule an appointment or wait for the next available one. I scanned the room and decided that it might take an hour or so to get through and that was worth the wait.

The clock ticked by slowly as I wanted for my name to be called, sitting in the plastic chairs that after a few moments began to dig into your sides and make your back ache. Mothers with children joined me in the waiting room and the babies did all they could to remain entertained without crying.

Before I knew it over three hours had ticker by and they began calling people up one by one, giving them individual appointments for not the following day, but a week later. Considering that the next available appointment wasn't even that day it seems silly that they would ask you to wait.

My appointment was scheduled for this morning and I returned to the room full of plastic chairs after signing in. Once again those plastic chairs started to suck the life out of me. As the room overturned I noticed I had not been called and it was almost 2 hours past my original appointment time. I returned to the Gatekeepers and asked if they could check to see if my name had been called and I missed it.

She curtly informed me that she didn't know and had no way to check. She sent an email to my caseworker and told me that there was nothing else she could do and I should sit down.

About ten more minutes when by before a very nice woman with a quiet voice called my name from the front door. Oh I thought, that was the problem, I didn't hear her. Once in the elevator I apologized for not hearing her when she originally called me. She corrected me; she had never come down to get me because she was catching up from yesterday. Oh.

The caseworker reviewed my application, including blue booking my car because if it worth a certain amount they expect you to sell it before receiving benefits. After about 20 minutes of her entering information in she apologized and let me know that nearly 8 hours of sitting in a waiting room had qualified me for 5 dollars of assistance each month. Wow that carton of ice cream was gonna taste great.

She then realized that she had another VISTA that she did benefits for and she backtracked, reviewed their application and corrected mine. The second run through spit out a correct about of dollars for each month.

I was directed to another room of plastic chairs, where I waited for about ten minutes before beginning the process over again. The second woman processed my request through the system and explained what I would be receiving; she then took me to a third room on another floor.

An explanation of how benefits would be received was explained by the third woman. She asked if I was a student. "No, I am an Americorps VISTA. I'm volunteering for the year" "

"Oh. Well don't they pay you?"
"Yes, but it's only a small amount and the recommend we apply for assistance so we can understand where the people we serve are coming from"
"Well why don't you get another job?"
"That's not how VISTA works. You aren't allowed to have another job"
"Oh, well here's your card"
"Um ok, thanks…"

She rode the elevator with me to the first floor and I tried to explain to her why the being a VISTA is a good experience and has a lot of opportunities for learning and growth. I don't think she understood.

In reflection I can understand why it is so difficult for people who depend on assistance to go through that process. There were women trying to balance children and a having to take of time from their job to sit and be treated poorly by people who think they must have some power over the people applying. Overall, most everyone is friendly, and wants to help, you just have to get through the hierarchy first.

On the whole the entire experience was draining, but I gained a new perspective on welfare and the people who have to use it. Mostly it helped me to realize how lucky I have been and how thankful I need to be for the opportunities I have been given.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Its Official I'm a Stalker

I discovered today that for the past three weeks I have driven to work behind the same car, almost everyday. It's a little weird considered that I don't leave at the same time everyday, since I now have a McDonalds coffee addiction… (It was announced sometime last week that McDonalds is actually beginning to win stock from Starbucks thanks to their gourmet caffeine delight) It's a blue 4x4 with a window sticker for the Indianapolis children's choir, yesterday the thought occurred to me, so I wrote down their license plate to check today. They probably think I'm stalking them.

Indianapolis is a quirky city, bigger then Denver by definition but much more sprawling. The city is broken up into neighborhoods, (Broad Ripple = Trendy Young Professionals, Speedway = Families and NASCAR Fans, etc.) I live in the Eagle Creek area, just south of the only wilderness in the Circle City, Eagle Creek reservoir, also known as the White Coat Ghetto, because most of the people in the area are medical residents and interns. So far I haven't heard any fun Greys Anatomy stories, just that the nurses torment the interns by making them do ridiculous tasks.

Where some parts of the town are really beautiful, others are showing the signs of age, with dilapidated buildings next door to beautiful turn of the century brownstones. My only compliant is the number of potholes around town; you could literally be swallowed up by one if you aren't paying attention. It doesn't matter how nice the area you are in either, the potholes are just as terrible, well that and the bitter cold, but I was prepared for that.

I had the opportunity last week to meet with a Young Professionals Group in Indy that works to connect all of the YPG's in the area together, as part of my research into engaging young donors. Indianapolis is made up primarily of people who are between the ages of 20-45, funny since most everywhere else has a larger population of boomers then millenials, but go figure.

For the most part it has been shown that people come into Indy to learn (IUPUI, Butler, etc), and start their careers, but they don't necessarily stay once their done. So young professional groups attempt to hold people in the area, giving them roots and a sense of stability. People depend on social capital to survive, have friends to visit with, drink with, or play cards with. People with social capital are happier, volunteer more, attend church more, and are more engaged in their communities. It's an interesting correlation and if you like non-fiction the book Bowling Alone has a really good explanation of social capital and how it effects society.

So in my attempt to build social capital I am going to volunteer at the Indianapolis 500, holding balloons in the parade, in exchange for my time I get a t-shirt and the exciting experience of watching cars go in circles for hours… I probably won't actually watch the race.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Jet Engines

The bathroom here sounds like a jet engine. No joke. You flip on the light and you suddenly hear a sound reminiscent of a 747 headed for New York. From what I was told, no one has been sucked up yet....

I recently learned that if you are too busy to walk your taxes into H&R block you can do so virtually, in an online portal called second life. Traditionally second life allows you to create a virtual character that can interact with others in a "face-to-face" manner. So rather then scooping up your papers and heading off to the local supermarket you have the option of still having a tete-a-tete without ever kicking off your bunny slippers, however the amount of effort one must put into creating their virtual mini-me just might not be plausible for many tax payers.

What's interesting about this is that HR block is one of the first companies to really link themselves in with virtual social networking sites, boasting to have outlets on facebook, myspace, second life, twitter, high5 ect. That means that chance are HR block employs 50 or so people who do nothing but respond to 'friend requests' 'pokes' and other forms of virtual entertainment, not to mention the real time person who 'sits' in the second life 'island' answering any form of tax related questions your second life avatar may have.

Before you know it people will stop leaving their homes and create an entire virtual world that they live in. Your second life avatar can be as wild, beautiful, or professional as you want them to be, best of all no one has to know that the person operating the next 'Ms. Second Life' pageant winner avatar hasn't showered in three days and has all their food delivered to their back door from Kroger. (Ring Bell Once for Pizza, Twice for Groceries, Your Tip is Under the Mat) I just hope enough people have read Fahrenheit 495 to recognize what a frightening concept that is.

However, the nice thing is that there are probably no jet plane fans in the bathroom in the virtual world, if there is I would make sure that they actually suck people up.