Q: I live in Kalkaska and have been reading your column since it began in December 2008.
I'm middle-aged, sandwiched between my 20-something son and two daughters and my 76-year-old parents. This holiday season, I've made my usual contributions to my favorite area charities. In addition, I've collected food, toys and animals supplies to donate. While I am extremely grateful to be working and able to do what I described, I want to do more.
Reading your column for the past two years has taught me to think differently about life. Can you give me some ideas as to how I can expand my helping this holiday season and into the New Year? I'd like to include my children and parents in these new efforts. — J.P
A: I very much appreciate hearing from you.
It sounds like you recognize that there are levels of participation and everyone must begin where they are. Thank you for what you have already done and for what you plan to do.
I applaud that you want your help to be multigenerational. No one is ever too young or old to need or give help.
Your children are part of a generation that needs and wants to participate in solving problems. Their efforts help them build job skills and self-esteem, and help create the world they want to live in. Your parents probably have vocational and volunteer skills/interests that our community can really utilize.
Consider balancing the help you offer locally with help you give nationally and internationally. Look closely at the circle of people closest to you. Often we overlook the needs in our own extended families and inner circles. It's important to not only ask people what they need and how you can help, but also to recognize the ways they may already be meeting their needs.
Sometimes what appears to be struggle or inadequacy is actually profound strength, success and simplicity. For example, some people ride BATA because it's affordable, fits their values and helps them relax and not drive in the winter.
Everyone approaches the proverbial table with needs and resources; each needs the other. Often we forget that all of us are in both groups, including people with disabilities.
Create a vision and mission statement as a family. What does it mean to be a member of your family? Why do you exist? What are you trying to accomplish as a family? What are you providing for one another? Once you know the answers to these questions, it will be easier to not only meet the needs of your family, but also not confuse your needs with what others really need.
Next, your family can research issues that they care about. Take a look at the community letters to the editor to see where the needs are. Read the Record-Eagle and its "Cheers" editorial on Mondays. Interview several sources — in the faith community, government workers, human service agencies, people who use services, working people who interact with people in need (drivers, waitresses, grocery clerks).
Seek conflicting opinions. Get as full a picture as you can.
Decide to adopt an issue as a family for one year. Study all of the levels of what's needed, from the practical (creating a snow-shoveling brigade for neighbors with disabilities or ramp-building teams) to the deeper lack of access inspections/enforcement and civil rights laws. Look for what's necessary to make long-term systemic change.
Question every aspect of the full story. Break those goals into measurable, smaller, accountable tasks. Each member of your family can own one part of the overall goal and can connect with other families doing the same thing.
Many times an issue or person in need is made known to us — we just have to remain open.
One local family selects their yearly issue by what they say "brings us to our knees." This year, that issue has been a family member who needed support living alone.
For the first few months of the year they found out what their loved one needed and wanted. They created a plan and began implementing the basics. For the holidays, the family decorated their loved one's home, helped address and mail the holiday cards, hosted friends/neighbors in the home, drove the family member to Munson for volunteer shifts, taught skills like cooking, basic medical care and security measures, and helped archive the family history and photos.
On another level, this family has researched all the pros, cons and options of their loved one living alone. They have asked family members to pledge financial assistance, if needed. They have surveyed which members of the family might move in with the loved one. They have researched how common this situation is in our community and what's being done on a larger scale. They have sat on local boards and committees addressing these concerns.
Their efforts have helped them help others. They've created a family vision and mission statements and planned for when the next family member may be faced with this same issue.
As a family, they've found the balance between giving too little and giving too much.
Good luck and keep us posted!
Susan Odgers, a resident of Traverse City for the past 23 years, has used a wheelchair for 34 years. She is a faculty member at Northwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University. She can be reached via the Record-Eagle. For more Adapted in TC columns, log on to record-eagle.com/susanodgers.