Thursday, June 29, 2017

How to do Good, but Better

Hello all! I hope everyone is having a fantastic summer thus far! I know, I know, I haven't posted much lately. I blame a beast of a move, pure post-graduation from grad school exhaustion and prolonged illness.

What has brought me back to writing here today is a topic that is more personal to me than your parents showing your significant other that embarrassing picture of you as a kid wearing your underwear as a hat. Not that I have any pictures like that (she says not making eye contact).

But first, I should probably provide a little background. I have been in social work for the better part of a decade, working mostly with homeless populations and those in homeless shelters in particular. Shelters are funded partially by things like grants and endowments, but we also depend heavily on the community for support and donations to help meet the tremendous needs our populations face.

For the most part, the community support the shelters I have worked for have received is incredible. People donating time, money, and much needed supplies saves lives and helps countless individuals get off the streets and into a better place.

There is a darker side to that community dependence, however. This is that darker side:

That veritable wall of boxes is what I walked in to work this week to see: Over 300 lbs of juice... that had expired in 2014. Not only was the juice expired, but it had been left out in the Arizona sun so long that some of the bottles had melted and fused together.

Someone had dropped off a wall of, essentially, toxic waste to a shelter that serves medically fragile homeless people. Not only is that callous, but it is dangerous! I'm grateful I had a chance to check out this anonymous donation before anyone drank any!

This is a problem that a lot of people in non-profits don't want to talk about, because we truly do need donations to survive and we don't want to discourage anyone who wants to help. However, there are times when the donations that we receive, like the wall of contaminants pictured above, goes beyond being unhelpful, they become a burden on the agencies. Not only was the juice dangerous to the health of my clients, but it meant that I then had to figure out a way to dispose of it all. Essentially, I spent most of my morning, time where I could be looking for housing opportunities for my clients, hauling boxes across a massive parking lot in 111 degree heat to a dumpster.

Sadly, this isn't a one-time thing. A month ago I received a donation of 800 pounds of rice and dried beans that had expired some 13 years ago. You read that right, 13 years! Destiny's Child was still together when that food expired.

I once worked at a shelter where a box truck drove up and dropped off 16 pallets of yogurt that had gone bad to the point where it had liquefied. I can't even count the number of times someone has dropped in with a take-out box they had dug out of their fridge after a few days and decided that they didn't want it, mold included.

Homeless shelters need more support now more than ever. Funding for necessary programs has dwindled significantly in the last 5 years, and current trends are indicating that what little funding is left will be facing challenges and cuts soon. Please, we need your generosity. No, let me rephrase that, we need your mindful generosity.

Donate to non-profits, but before you drop off that thing you don't need anymore, here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. Is this appropriate for the population it is going to?

I work in a men's shelter. You would be amazed at how many bras, tampons and sanitary napkins we get donated (I also get women's thongs on a regular basis, and nothing will break your sanity faster than having to confiscate one from a client who is using it as a slingshot to shoot other clients with wads of paper). These items would be much better used at a drop-in center that serves women or a domestic violence shelter.

2. Would I eat this? Would I feed this to a loved one? Is this something that someone could conceivably wear without it falling apart?

If the answer is "no," then don't donate it. I know it is hard to believe, but homeless people are still, in fact, people. If it would give you food poisoning, then it will give them food poisoning too, and believe me, their lives are hard enough already.

The same things goes for clothes. I once opened a donated trash bag full of clothes to find that not only they were moldy, but a family of mice had moved in. The bag was inside the shelter when I opened it, so we then got to pay for exterminators to come take care of our donated mice problem.

3. Am I just making something I don't want to deal with someone else's problem?

At one homeless shelter I worked at, I once took a donation of six used hamster cages. The person who dropped it off said, "I just didn't want to be bothered with them anymore and I couldn't figure out what I should do with them. So... Here you go."

This may come as a shock, but as I am a social worker, and not the owner of a hamster circus, I didn't know what to do with the cages either. What I did do with them was spent over an hour on the phone trying to find a thrift store that could sell them, drove all the way across town that day and dropped them off, before Febreezing the interior of my car to get rid of the "essence of hamster" scent.

Again, I don't want to discourage anyone from donating to good causes. However, just donating any old thing and patting yourself on the back can not only be unhelpful and counterproductive, it can be downright dangerous. If you don't know what you can do to help, ask someone who works for the agency. Every non-profit has a "needs and wants" list they will happily provide you with. Shelters are always in need of things like clean socks, toiletries and donations of edible food. What we don't need is to be designated as your alternative to paying to drop your stuff off at the landfill. Please, don't just do good things for your non-profits, do better things.

As always feel free to follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter (@AllisonHawn) and Instagram (@AtillatheHawn) and my books can be found for your reading enjoyment here!

Friday, May 19, 2017

On Melted Brain Cells and Foggy Thoughts

Hello everyone! I hope you are all having a splendid month!

I did warn you that my posts might be a touch light on the ground in the foreseeable future. However, I also promised that I would, at least attempt, to post more frequently.

In case you have been wondering what I've been up to, I just graduated with my Master's Degree! I am thankful to all who supported me and to the gallons of coffee that selflessly gave up their existence to help me reach this goal.

Of Course I Graduated in a Kilt, What Would You Expect?
What people don't tell you about major accomplishments, particularly ones that take so much focus, dedication and grey-hair inducing moments, is that once you are finished it is much less like reaching the end of a 5K run. At the end of a 5K you get a cup of water, an orange slice, and happily wander off to recover and go on with your day. And that is the key, your recovery is often simple, quick and doesn't inhibit your basic functions.

Unlike a 5K, an accomplishment that takes this much time and energy leaves you feeling as if you just completed a marathon, which you finished at the exact moment that the length of your leash ran out yanking you off your feet like an overexcited dog. There is no orange slice, there is no victory lap, there is only you, lying on the ground panting and trying to figure out how much energy it will take to scrape yourself off of the grass and stand up again.

Don't get me wrong, I am pleased as watermelon punch that I got my Master's Degree, my thesis was accepted and that I had this incredible educational opportunity and experience, but let's face it folks, after working 4 jobs to support myself, pursuing a full-time athletic training regime and topping it off with school, I am beyond toast. In fact, I am so toast, I often think about what kind of jam I can be paired with.

 I graduated last week, and while I have been functioning at work and out and about in the real world, I spend a majority of my free time right now kind of dazedly wandering about in a delirious state, fruitlessly attempting to recover what brain cells I have left and organize them into coherent thoughts.

This is why, of late, my presence on social media, and indeed this blog, probably have seemed to be a bit less frequent than normal. I apologize. I have sat down to write so many times and found myself staring at the computer screen in a near comatose state. It is a miracle no one has labelled me a vegetable yet.

Indeed, I haven't even had the presence of mind to think of a topic to write for weeks now. And so, as I sat pondering what to write, I decided to sit down and write the truth: I am still me, I still plan on writing, but if I am going to turn out anything of quality, I had better let my mental batteries recharge for a second. I want to bring you all the same quality (whatever you deem that to be) that you have come to expect of me.

So, as I let my little synapses and energy levels recover, I ask for your patience. There are many more stories and adventures I have stored up to relate to you all, it may just take me a moment to scrape myself off the grass, grab an orange slice and decide to start jogging again.

Thank you, my dear readers, for all of your support, and I promise, there will be more soon.

Until then, you can find my existing books here, and my adventures can be followed on FacebookTwitter (@AllisonHawn) and Instagram (@AtillatheHawn)!

Friday, March 10, 2017

I Swear, I Haven't Died... Which Is Kind of a Surprise.

Hello everyone! I realize, as evidenced by the dust swirling around my blog's header, that it has been a bit since I have been on here. (Yes, yes, I know. Bad author! No author cookies for you!)

First, thank you to everyone who read Life is a Roller Derby Run by a Sphinx, the feedback I have gotten has been rad!

One Amazon customer wrote, "This is the first book I've read by Hawn, and I loved it. Her wit, sense of imagery, and use of irony carried through each story. While I typically don't read short story compilations, I enjoyed her most recent installment from cover to cover. Whether I was looking for a quick break between studying, or comedic relief during a long work day, or to snuggle up with a good read before bed, "Life is a Roller Derby..." hit the mark story after story."


So why has it taken me so long to post on this blog again? To be truthful, life over the past few months kind of hit me like a tsunami comprised of hornets and terrible European club music. 

What have I been up to? Well, here a few bits and pieces.

1. I've been kidnapped by a project known as a thesis. 

I'm not sure when it happened, I don't exactly remember it happening. But somewhere in the midst of trying to complete this Master's Degree I was knocked over the head and awoke to find myself writing a 220 page monster of research and academic integrity. 

Just One Draft of the Monster
The thesis itself, which is on portrayals of women in domestic roles in American advertising, has taken a majority of my free time in the past few months. Not only because to get a decent data set I ended up watching over 2,000 American TV commercials (I will never get some of those jingles out of my head), but then I had to write about them. 

It got to the point where I had done so much research and writing that Word popped up with one of those "helpful hints" while I was editing one day suggesting I "Justify the Text," and I lost it, ranting at my computer screen about my 9 pages of sources and the research I had done, before it dawned on me what it was actually asking for. Thank heavens I defend next week.

2. I've been working 4 jobs. 

Education isn't cheap. And in a bid not to be in debt for the rest of my natural life (and maybe even after I've died), I have been working on average 50 to 60 hours a week on top of my Master's Program work to both pay tuition, and, you know, eat. 

The picture, by the way, is from a security gig that I worked out in Arizona's heat. Your eyes are not deceiving you, my shoes melted, like the Wicked Witch of the West, to the pavement.

3. I've been competing as a sponsored athlete. 

As I have written about previously, I am a Highland Games athlete. For those who don't know what that is, I put on a kilt and throw heavy things. Sometimes I throw them far, sometimes I throw them high, sometimes they get stuck on my shirt and I throw myself with them, but I make heavy things move. 

This past year I was picked up for sponsorship by D.W.A. Lifestyle (D.W.A. standing for Determination, Willpower, Attitude). Over the past year I have competed in Highland Games competitions throughout Arizona and several other states. It has been a fun and wild ride thus far, but a lot of work. 

4. I got into a PhD Program!

I have spent the last several months pouring my efforts into applying for PhD programs, and it paid off. I will be starting a PhD program in Communication at the end of this summer!

5. I have been volunteering at a community garden that provides food to homeless shelters. 

This past year I discovered that I'm actually not terrible at gardening (this is surprising since I come from a long line of herbicidal maniacs).  

But hey! I managed to actually grow zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, peppers and a variety of other veggies and herbs and no one (including myself) died! It's like a sign of the Apocalypse.  

This of course is not an exhaustive list of my activities over this past year, but I think provides at least a snapshot of why, maybe, just maybe, I may have let this blog slide. 

Going forward, I promise to try to post more regularly, however, I cannot promise it will be with the weekly regularity it once was. However, if you are wanting to still follow my adventures (of which I have many) follow me on Instagram (@Atillathehawn), Twitter (@AllisonHawn) and Facebook! My books can also be found on Amazon!