In college, bus trips meant a date, a costume, too much to drink- due to the consumption of too many shots. Post college, I don't think it really changed- a date (Layne), a costume (tacky Christmas sweater), and too much to drink. Enough said. But bus trips have now taken on a new meaning...
This past weekend, I spent my Saturday on my Junior League Provisional Bus Tour. It's a mandatory event for our provisional year, and it was WONDERFUL! The purpose of the bus tour is to introduce the new members of the Junior League to several of the organizations that the Junior League donates both their time and money to. We left headquarters right after 8am with caffeine in hand, and got done about 2:30. In between, I caught up with friends, met some new ones, we snacked, lunched, and visited four great organizations. I can't wait to share what we learned.
Living downtown has changed the way I see some things. We are definitely exposed to the homeless population in Dallas differently than I ever have been before. When is the last time you saw a panhandler on McKinney Ave. uptown? So the first stop definitely resonated with me the most-The Stewpot. It's located 2-3 blocks away from our loft on Park Avenue, so it will be easy for me to get to (I'm determined to make service a priority in life), and I was blown away by the services they provide. Did you know that the majority of the homeless in Dallas are women and children? How terrible is that? To think of children that are Addison, Reece and Grace's age on the street is disturbing, and motivating. The Stewpot is doing everything they can, and then some. Here are a few fun facts: Case managers and medical and dental staff are meeting the needs of over 500 of our homeless friends each week. The Stewpot's Second Chance Cafe at the Bridge has served more than 1,500,000 meals since May of 2008. And most importantly (in my mind) The Stewpot is host to 400 inner city kids in year round programs. Computer classes, art classes, bible studies, ESL classes.... the list goes on and on. The Stewpot is focused on helping people help themselves to get of of the streets and start living a new life. I can't wait to get involved.
Our second stop was off in East Dallas, at the main campus for East Dallas Community Schools. The first school was est. in 1978 in East Dallas, with a second campus at Lindsley Park in 1999, and a third at Bachman Lake in 2009. EDCS believes that all children, regardless of ethnicity or income, can succeed in school when they start young and involve parents. (Parents start meeting with the school during the pregnancy, and school starts at 13 months.) Their mission: to provide an outstanding education to culturally and economically diverse groups of children from primarily low-income families during the first nine years of life. (The program ends with 3rd grade.) Despite the fact that EDCS was awarded Gold Performance acknowledgements in both reading and math by the State of Texas, and despite the fact that that the EDCS charter school was rated exemplary, this is the statistic that nails it down: In contrast to the local high school graduation rate of less than 50% in the neighborhood, EDCS third grade alumni graduate high school at a rate of 94%, with 88% of those graduates attending college. This really was unlike any learning environment I've ever been exposed to, and I thought it was brilliant.
Our third stop was at the Senior Source, a nursing home for the elderly. I'll be honest- I don't like hospitals and I don't like nursing/ old-folks homes. I miss my grandparents enough as it is, and going back to a place like that makes me miss them even more. BUT... I believe it is important for someone to spend the end of life in dignity, and while it's important that people focus on the youth of our nation, the elderly should be just as much of a priority. The Senior Source was one of thirteen projects that provisionals could pick for their 20 hour service projects this year (mine is putting on Reptile week at the Museum of Nature and Science), and so far they've done a great job. Two weekends ago, they made a "wall of honor" and included pictures of every resident in the home that served this country in their lifetime. It was beautiful. The residents love it, and supposedly it's started all kinds conversations between the house mates. And check out this statistic- more than 50% of the residents at the home we visited have never had a visitor. PERIOD. They deserve more, and it's empowering to know that we can give it to them. So aside from regular volunteers who visit the home each month, the Junior League is also responsible for the biggest social event of the month. Different themes, different plans... same place, same great time. Just walking through the facility lit up smiles on peoples faces.
And finally, our trip ended at the Ronald McDonald House. Some people were really familiar with this organization, but I was not. The House is 60,000 square feet and has 60 guest rooms including six suites for families who have special needs due to a transplant, chemotherapy, or an immune suppressed system. The house serves as a " home away from home" for families of seriously ill children who are hospitalized or receiving treatment in area hospitals. The Ronald McDonald House in Dallas opened in 1981 and has served over 25,000 families. They just recently moved into a new facility by Children's Hospital which has doubled their capacity. No one is ever turned away due to inability to pay, although they ask for a $15/day donation. The House operates at an average 91% occupancy rate, and is dependent upon the community to stay open. There are more than 100 regular weekly volunteers, and over 300 cooking team volunteers who provide three meals a day for families. 94% of the funding needed to sustain the House comes from individual and corporate donors, community organizations, and special events.
Later this year, I'll get to select my placement for next year. It'll be a 60 hour volunteer commitment to the organization of my choice that the Junior League works with. Until then, I'm excited about Reptile Week at the Museum, and am going to check out The Stewpot once more.