Yesterday I stopped in at the Women’s Resource Center to see what had changed since my involvement with it so many years ago. I would be meeting with a new friend in about thirty minutes and this was a spur-of-the-minute thought.
My New Friend needed a helping hand, much more than I could provide just by breaking property management rules and letting her have an apartment she didn’t qualify for because it was so far beyond her means.
I dashed home and found her waiting for me — fifteen minutes early! — at my door. We sat at my table and I spelled out her situation once again – how she was skipping steps in her desire to have an apartment, this one, all by herself.
Most of us who have been in her situation – leaving home so young – have shared space with a group of friends in a house or a coop, and then with just a few friends in an apartment. We only got our very own space when we had the money to afford it, including the utilities, and still have some left over for food!
But she was adamant. She’d do whatever it took to have her own space, and she had chosen this one. And I totally get that, because we had already shared our personal stories. In fact, it was that shared bond that nudged me to continue meeting with her despite her being the worst possible candidate for the house.
So I continued the interview and spelled out the consequences to those living here if she failed paying her rent, all of it, on time. I mentioned again that the tenant on the other side of her bedroom wall was a retired 84-year-old teacher who had told me several times, “I like it here. This is my home until I die.”
My New Friend didn’t say anything, but I could see in her eyes that she understood. Even at 19, this young woman was a very Old Soul.
I should probably mention that I manage a rental property, but it’s not a modern concrete complex. Instead, it’s an old Adobe house that the previous owner remodeled into the apartments. I do not own it, the bank does, and I run it like a coop.
One of my stories for prospective tenants includes reminding them how they heard sounds in other rooms when they lived at home (at least most of us in this “rent level” did). I also specify that tenants are expected to shovel their snow, keep their part of the property clean inside and out, and follow the rules for recycling in the single-stream dumpster. Because I do, the coop doesn’t have to hire outside help for such things and there is more money for maintenance on the things we must hire expert help for – like installing new kitchen faucets or replacing old toilets.
I explained why the best I could offer her now would be a Monthly agreement – that the typical annual lease would put too much pressure on her and too much stress on me! Short steps are so much easier to accomplish than long-range, big ones when we’re just starting.
Having set the boundaries, I asked her about “Her Plan” – what she had done, what she would do, to make her dream happen if she still wanted to be part of this family.
As she listed the steps she had already taken and the ones she now understood were required before we could sign the Monthly Agreement, I marveled at her independence, her poise, and how much she’d learned since she’d been on her own at 15! And while she talked, I thought about the two 19-year-olds who had knocked on my door earlier.
Dancing around on my deck and making funny faces to each other, they explained how they had entered a contest to “make their dream come true.” They wanted me to buy magazines; each sale would contribute to points toward their goal.
Yes, they were doing something on their behalf. But this young woman, my New Friend, same age, was seeking a different kind of dream, sanctuary. And she was reaching out in faith, expecting the best, acknowledging her part, and taking the steps that were hers to do. (I bought no magazines.)
She finished sharing her plan with me, told me what she’d already done and what she planned to do the next day in the hours before her housekeeping job at the nearby hospital.
I concluded my part of the interview by handing her the business card I’d gotten earlier from the Women’s Resource Center and saying, “Please also contact these people; they are the hub of information for women in this town and can guide you to other resources that might help you.”
I made lunch for us and asked her to phone the insurance company to find out what the Renter’s Insurance policy would cost her. Since State Farm took over the policy for this house, they have required all tenants to have their own policy in case they start a fire that affects the building.
After lunch, we took a walk in the neighborhood to her next stop and I reminded her about the Women’s Resource Center. “If you have time, it wouldn’t hurt to at least start the process – go in say ‘Hi’ and fill out a form. And if you’re running late when you get to my house, I’ll take you to your job at the hospital.”
She has no car; she walks.
I went home and worked on some bookkeeping, and then collected the snow shovels by each apartment door to store them in the garage until October. When I came back inside, I saw that I’d missed a phone message from my New Friend.
I quickly phoned the Women’s Resource Center and asked if she had come in; and if so, was she still there? In response, I got a mouthful of “We don’t share information… .” And was instantly passed to the boss upstairs who repeated their well-rehearsed mantra, “I can’t tell you if she’s been here or not … we don’t share information…”That was the same woman I had spoken with earlier!
When she finally stopped talking, I said, “I told her (my New friend) I’d give her a ride and I missed her call. I was worried she’d be late for work.” Silence…
I totally understand their need to protect their clients. I was part of an earlier version of that outfit. In 1976 it was the Virginia Neal Blue Center, and my community service as a professor was spent as a volunteer counselor there. Years later, when the new Women’s Resource Center opened, I also gave them some time, but by then most of my volunteer hours were spent with special education agencies, because they were related to my teaching job at the college and our relationship was mutually beneficial.
My work in both places was designed to help women get back on their feet — the same way I was trying to help my New Friend – by helping them to let go of the past and to formulate a plan of steps, tiny steps, to take each day until they got what they wanted. Goals typically included new jobs, new place to live, and going back to school to learn a way to support them. I also taught the staff listening skills.
Listening skills were missing when I phoned the Women’s Resource Center yesterday afternoon. They could have handled my call differently simply by asking “Why do you want to know?” before delivering their well-rehearsed speech about protecting privacy.
Having worked in both a city and a small town with the results of the dark side of humanity, I understand how fear permeates everything. Helpers tend to absorb the fear and act out of that fear in their desire to protect clients. There is a tendency to see danger everywhere.
However, we can rise above that and choose to live in a different space, a more loving, positive space. But it requires work, like practicing being in the moment so we don’t pollute the communication with knee-jerk responses. It requires acquiring a set of listening skills, like Carl Roger’s “reflective listening.” And communication skills like the Assertiveness Training I used to teach which is now available in Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication. And for beginners, I recommend having a set of stock replies like those in My Final Quit and CYCLING in the CITY to stall for time until we remember how to communicate with love.
“Coincidentally,” I read something this morning that fit this situation perfectly:
When does life seem harsh? Whenever people refuse to see other people’s point of view. When does the world seem sweet? Whenever we feel we’re being listened to and understood. What therefore should we do if we wish to contribute to a global climate of conciliation? Negativity is contagious. We pass it on to one another without even realising we’re doing so. The kinder you can manage to be, the more likely you’ll attract generosity towards yourself. ~Oscar Cainer
In writing this, I realized my mistake. I should have phoned my new friend directly instead of calling the women at the center who are dragons at the gate for their clients. Understood. But I was worried about my New Friend being late for work, and in my efforts to help her, I had responded out of reflex and called the place she said she’d be. Lesson learned. It won’t happen again.
Till next time, please be kind to everyone you meet for we all have our hidden sorrows. ~Tzaddi