I often ask myself this question. It is not hard to remember why, when I look at the people around me. People who I can see struggling, and who want to live a good life. People who want to make the world better, and people who just don't know who they are and what they are supposed to be doing here.
I know I am not the only one who has struggled with these big questions. We are all looking for answers.
In this moment I believe we are here to uplift, to shine our individual light, and spread more goodness. The most important thing any of us can do is spread love. But the problem is that so many of us are hurt and disconnected to our own source of light and love. We are stuck in a swamp of misery, or disconnected from our feelings and the truth of who we are.
I still can struggle with these feelings of hopelessness and despair, not nearly as often as in the past. Today, I have found many things that bring me great joy. When I do discover these joyful things, when I feel connected to that source of love, I get the deepest desire to share that with others. That is all I want in the world. The desire to share these feelings is insatiable.
My cup over-flows, and I am delighted to find any way I can to share the feelings. Sharing our discovery of ways of making life more loving and good is what we are here to do. This world can be a much better place. It depends on each of us coming to know and love ourselves, and then we can allow this goodness to flow out into the world.
We can be the wayshowers to those who are struggling and suffering under the weight of judgment and guilt from those who are unconscious. We can uplift and unburden those who have lost sight of the bigger picture, that we are all children of God, extensions of light-source energy.
I am blessed in this life. I have been given an opportunity to know myself, even if it is just a little bit. Now, in my own excitement and enthusiasm, all I desire to do is show others some of the good things I have discovered to help make life more joyful, and bring more freedom to the world.
I received a letter from the head of the Rotary Club to which I joined as a means of getting better insights into the work I am doing. I was sitting at the table and someone was talking about Seattle, where they spoke about the way the city was dealing with the addiction problem. Seattle has struggled with Meth addiction for years, since the trend started in the 90s. Right now they have a full-blown crisis on their hands, and this has resulted in the dangerous social experiment: addict encampments, or tent cities.
This is not the solution. People who are making these decisions are not addicts, and clearly do not understand the nature of addiction. They do not know that recovery is possible, and that people have been able to recover from even drugs like Meth and Fentanyl with the right supports.
Creating encampments is not a support for recovery, it is support for drug addicts to remain in their hopeless state of addiction. These are not humanitarian spaces of compassion and care, they are death sentences for so many. They may as well be the death camps from the holocaust, for how much misery they house. To recover the addict must completely change; "people, places and things" is the catch phrase in the recovery community. By creating encampments, not only is the issue of addiction not being addressed, we are normalizing the act of living to use drugs. We are enabling this behavior, and saying it is a fine life-choice. But the truth is, it is not a choice for the addict. This is not about saying that drug addicts are bad people, but about acknowledging what the drugs do to the human being.
Meth and fentanyl are so powerful, they rob a person of their ability to do anything but take those drugs. How is it doing a favor to someone to allow them to sit in the prison of addiction. God gave us free-will, but the devil gave us drugs which took away free will.
A life of drug addiction is one filled with violence, degradation, and humiliation. It is one filled with crime and a desperate need to survive. It is one that robs the individual of their gifts, their reason, and their family. It is the source of a breakdown of our social structures as we are no longer receiving the benefits and gifts each of the lost individuals were here to share. When a single person is lost to drug addiction, the effect ripples out for generations.
How can we have lost our sense of values? How can we care so much about a fetus, and be so callous and uncaring to a fully grown human being? Clearly, there is a God given potential in the fetus is to become someone beautiful, and to contribute to the world in a unique and precious way. We can see that truth in the unborn child, and so why is it lost when the child grows up and struggles to find a way in the world? Why are we giving up on all of these souls? They are also here to share their unique gifts with the world. And beautiful gifts they hold indeed.
When a person is simply living a life to get drugs, and for no other reason, they have lost their way. They have lost their purpose. They have lost touch with their soul. They are hopeless. They are living in a hell on earth.
That is not what we are here for. We are here for so much more, and recovery is possible, no matter how old or far-gone you think someone has gone. Recovery is possible. Believe it and know that each of these people has a life worth living on the other side of recovery, but not in addiction.
I feel so strongly that I was driven to share these insights with the Rotary Club president.
He shared about a member dying, and her husband being assaulted in the parking lot of the hospital. So this poor man, while in such a vulnerable state was assaulted and had his car stolen. This type of lack of humanity is a product of drug use.
LETTER TO THE ROTARY:
Thank you for sharing this, especially regarding the assault. That is a horrible experience for anyone to have, but especially someone who is grieving and vulnerable.
It is important that we recognize the dangerous path this world is on, especially with respect to the drug situation in the world, and Peoria is no exception. The meth epidemic in Peoria is impacting businesses, families, and communities. However, there is hope here.
There is a real potential here to do something about the addiction crisis. We cannot isolate the addicts from the community, that will just breed more problems. My belief is the values in Peoria, and of the Rotary, reflect a much more evolved sense of humanity.
I am grateful to be here, and out of Chicago, or other big cities that are trying to fix the problem by isolating addicts in sectioned off areas of the city. These encampments are dangerous breeding grounds for crime and drug addiction. They are places where people have lost their sense of self, and their purpose and direction. We can do better.
I came here from Chicago in part because of the recovery community here. Recovery from meth addiction is possible, but it won't be served by creating tent cities, or giving people clean needles. This problem requires a concerted effort on the part of many individuals who understand the struggle. We need to provide a message of hope for those who are out there struggling every day, and to help them find the rooms of recovery.
This message was timely as it reached my inbox on the day of our first Crystal Meth Anonymous meeting in over 6 months. We have struggled to get this meeting started, like many other areas of the country that I have had the chance to visit. This drug is so powerful that it is hard to maintain enough sobriety in the community to sustain the meeting. However, we have hope at the Community House. We have two of our residents who have been able to maintain almost 2 years of solid sobriety off of meth, and heroin. They are the examples that the community needs to start to believe recovery is possible.
I am grateful to be a part of Rotary, and to engage in the mission of your organization.
I am hoping that there is a way to share more about this project of recovery, or to find like-minded individuals who are touched by the issues and want to support a transformation from crime, and encampments to responsible, reliable and productive members of our community.
This is a task that seems unattainable, but Peoria is the place where we can begin to come together on this goal.
During this period of bringing in the new year, we can reflect on all we have been through, collectively, and globally. Peoria is a great city. It has multigenerational families, businesses, and is truly a representative sample of the United States.
What a wonderful place to live, and yet it is a shadow of what it used to be, and it is not what it could be, or should be. Neighborhoods are infested with drugs, and houses and buildings that are in disrepair do a disservice to the beauty of Peoria, or what it should be.
I hope that this message finds you well, and that I can participate in the Rotary as a source for positive change in our community.
Thank you for letting me be a selfless servant to this town that I have grown to love with all of my heart.
Abigail Larrison, PhD, EdD
Founder & Director: The Community House Network, NFP
I am on an incredibly steep learning curve during the process of bringing the vision of the Community House Network into reality. There are many pieces and moving parts. All of these serve our goal of helping people become empowered to share their gifts, be self-determined, and live their best life.
I have often spoken about the Shop-Co-op as a shining point in the project, and yet it has also been the part where I have encountered the most false starts. I have hired two professional carpenters, but neither of them could devote the time necessary. If I were to hire them for their typical fee, it would be prohibitive. We have made do, and it worked well for a bit, but now we are on an entirely volunteer staff, and I am just not equipped to handle the demands of working with power tools.
So, things need to change. Is this change of direction the right move? Am I losing focus of our mission? Bottom line, is this a pivot responsive to the needs of our community, or is it mission creep, taking the easy way out? What is the difference between a pivot and mission creep?
In our first conversation for entrepreneurs in the lecture series "If I Knew Then" I talked with my brother, Jim Larrison, founder of Dynamic Signal about how you start a business and his tip for entrepreneurs. He talked a little about pivoting in his plans as new information was made available. If you cannot adapt you will die.
In an interview with Manny Rodriguez who directs the start-up Revolution Workshop, he talks about Mission Creep, where we get away from the mission because of other opportunities that crop up and in fact we head off in a completely different direction without even wanting to do so.
In fact there has been mission creep going on for the past few months. Right now, the garage has been filled up with donations of clothing since our failed rummage sale. We didn't want to get rid of everything so we decided to use the lure of free stuff to try to build our connections in the neighborhood. It didn't work. Now the space is just cluttered and useless. Clearly, the giving away of clothes is also not aligned with our mission of empowering people be direct their own lives.
Then the idea came to turn it into a little stage space. There were several ideas that led to this.
First, over the past two years, I have been dabbling in song writing, and this past month I started a Free Music Collaborative as a way of sharing songs I had written and creating a space for other musicians and song writers to also share their work. The details are still being fleshed out. But, the idea of performing and sharing them with an audience, and also encouraging others to share their works is living in me. A stage space would be amazing to do this, and since the garage is not being used...you get the idea.
Then, for those who have been following our monthly theme here, it is all about writing. Two weeks ago, Marissa led us using a prompt and that stimulated a long lost interest in creative writing, instead of just academic or non-fiction. From this I started working on a play, a musical in fact.
When I let Chevy know we had to go to an all volunteer staff he took it well, and immediately started helping in the garage. Then the kids came by and they started enacting some scenes from a story they were developing. They had characters, and started writing a rap. None of them have shown as much interest in doing carpentry as they have shown in doing some sort of performance.
So I had to ask myself, is this in alignment with our mission? The answer is yes. More on this later.
It has been several months since I last posted in our journal. Due to our lack of fundraising success, we have had to move to an all volunteer staff. This is probably how I should have started in the beginning, but I was excited to have a staff at all. We now have several people who have been regular participants in our programming who are willing to do more.
Marissa Fandel has been an incredible help, providing both hands-on support, as well as networking. She has also helped with bringing more clarity towards our vision. We have asked her to become a member of our board of directors, and so I am excited to have her bring her genius to the table.
We also have long time participants in our programming. One such member is DJuana Lucas, who has seen clearly how to create supports for our recovery community through developing resource pages. She has also joined our board and so be prepared to see more information for those who want to join us on this amazing path of recovery.
Progress doesn't look like what I thought it would, and yet, it feels good to be at this point in our development. Stay tuned for more news from the frontlines.
I know with all of my heart that this project is good. I know that it will succeed. Even if what I am seeing before me doesn't always seem to be showing me success, I know that it is just the process.
If there is anyone out there reading this who believes that we can create loving community in our neighborhood, keep the faith alive in your hearts. Envision the world you want to see.
Believing is seeing.
We are struggling with our fundraising here at the Community House, and so we invite you to donate if you feel the goodness in what we are doing here.
But we are not trying to rely only on public support. We have been seeking grants. This tripped us up when we tried to submit a grant to the Community Foundation a group here in central Illinois. They stated they would not grant to Foundations. Not even operating foundations. So what do we do?
I have signed up for the "Assurance Program" at the Foundations Group, the organization that helped me start this project, and they have hopped on board to help me through the process of what we call "A Walk Out." Here I am transitioning from a private operating foundation to a public charity. In case you are wondering, the paperwork that needs to be filed with the IRS is an 8940.
Certainly, the first year I was obliged to be determined as a Foundation given that the entirety of our funding came from an individual endowment, funds that had been left to me as an inheritance from my step-mom Sue. But now that we are up and running, the goal is to become more of a publicly supported organization.
When I first asked about this, I was somewhat shocked to learn that the process takes 5 years. Five years of operating as a public charity before we will be formally designated as such. So, if that is the direction I want to go, now is the time to get started. Can we do it? That is the question of the day.
Here is a little piece of information, a total of 1/3 of the revenue stream needs to come from small donations (less than 5,000/ person), however, if a person donated 10,000, then 5,000 can still fall into the 1/3 bucket. Also, if you are charging fees for any of your offerings, those go into the publicly funded bucket as well. Finally, if the NFP is already holding assets, including cash, they are not included in the overall revenue stream. So, if I want to create one last endowment now, before the walk-out, those monies won't be held against our determination as a public charity.
Looking at the entire picture, I believe this goal of meeting the standard of public support shouldn't be too hard to accomplish.
We just completed our First Apprentice session coming up with the Qualities of Good Service, and if anyone embodies these, it is for certain that it is Griffin Heating and Cooling.
Owned and operated by Doug Ingersoll, this company has come to the rescue of the Community House Network on more than one occasion. Today he is installing a new furnace and AC unit. The old spider furnace, or body burner we liked to call it, is now gone and we have an efficient new furnace provided at cost.
Doug saw the good work we were doing and wanted to help out. His prices was nearly $10,000 less than the competitors. That is a lot, lot less. We are still figuring out our funding so this act of altruism has saved the day for us.
We are ever so grateful to him and his team.
This journal, besides sharing the progress of our emergence as an operating foundation, is also meant to be a useful reference or blueprint for anyone wanting to start their own NFP. The biggest challenge for me, has been a lot of the compliance elements of the program. It is almost tax time, and I am a bit freaked out. This year has been less complex for reporting than in the future I am sure because the funding has been entirely from a single endowment provided by myself to the foundation. Still, I am required to report all of the financials with regards to the use of our funds. I will create a breakdown that will be made visible soon.
I actually like data entry, and creating graphs, and all sorts of crunching numbers, but when it comes to filling out forms, that is a different story. Luckily the Foundations Group that has been instrumental to me starting this project has a program that will do this work for me. I will try to share all that I learn for those who cannot afford their services.
Stay tuned for more information!
What we have been waiting for has finally arrived. Our 501-3C status has been approved. There is no doubt in my mind that the Foundations Group was the critical factor. Also, finally filing the 990 with the IRS. Late, yes, but as is apparent by our success, better late than never.
It is interesting that I have been waiting on this status in order to begin formal fundraising, and I can tell you now, I think that was a mistake. All donations made from our original filing in October 2020 would have been approved for a tax write-off.
So many things are in full movement right now, I am not sure even how to begin this whole fundraising effort. Early in our start-up, we had made a decision to use a relationship approach to fundraising, based on the book, "The Generosity Network." I believe we have been working on our relationships, but so far we haven't had much success in raising funds.
Still, I have faith.
Keep your eyes open for our donate button as I make an attempt to navigate this process. And if you like what we are doing, please donate. You can even officially write it off.
I was looking at some notes I had written down when contemplating this project. One thing that is very important to me is to empower people to live their best lives. That really is the crux of the project. But the truth is, that even in being empowered, it doesn't mean I have to do it alone. I live my best life when I find the common purpose and share vision and my gifts in collaboration with others.
This project is attracting people who have good hearts, and want to give. Recently we had someone donate some food items that we couldn't immediately see us using in our after school programming. There was an initial thought that perhaps we could serve a role as a food dispensary. I was pretty tired at the moment, but it didn't feel right. It didn't feel as if it fit with our mission. I realized that we do not want to become simply a place to give things away. If we are not teaching someone something with our gifts, if we are not empowering them, we are creating dependence.
Once that part of the vision was clarified again, we came up with half a dozen things we could do with the food. All of these things inspired creativity, would bring the community together and also would feed our neighborhood while lifting people up. The point is that the vision is beginning to live not just within me, but within our team of amazing leaders.
Of course we don't want to create dependence. We want to empower people to be less dependent. But it is not about being completely independent either. We want loving community. We want connection with others. We want to share our gifts and realize our interdependence.
I have consistently struggled with how do I loosen the reigns. I don't want to be a dictator. I want to support the growth of others, and make it less about me and more about what the community members can bring to the table.
I can see that it is working. I am able to step back, and people can step in and shine their light. This was ever so apparent when during my time visiting my mother in Chicago, the team held a successful community event that even received media coverage. Thank you team!
In a project like this, it is so important that we allow others to contribute their own personal vision and mission to the energy of the project. No one has been more influential to bringing clarity to our vision that Kelly Beal and her personal mission to bring more kindness to the world through Keegan's Krew Anti-Bullying Campaign. It is only through allowing her own passion to come through that a clear direction for our shared vision is being realized at the Community House. Loving kindness really is the cornerstone for us all.
You can check out the story here.
An Idealist-Realist. Striving to Bring those Idealistic Dreams into Reality.